In one of his Family Conversations,
Confucius sets down an interesting dialogue on
the subject of learning.
Confucius sat down to rest, and his
students immediately started asking him
questions. On that day, he was in a good mood
and so decided to answer. Someone asked him:
'You are capable of explaining everything
you feel. Why don't you go to the Emperor and
talk to him?'
'The Emperor himself makes beautiful
speeches,' said Confucius, 'but beautiful
speeches are merely a question of technique,
they do not of themselves contain Virtue.'
'Well, send him your book of poems, then.'
'Those three hundred poems could be
summed up in two words: think correctly. That
is the secret.'
'What does thinking correctly involve?'
'It's knowing how to use mind and heart,
discipline and emotion. When we want
something, life will guide us there, but by
unexpected paths. We often feel confused
because we are surprised by those paths and
think we must be going in the wrong direction.
That is why I said, allow yourself to be carried
away by emotion, but have enough discipline to
follow it through.'
'Is that what you do?'
'When I was fifteen, I began to learn. When
I was thirty, I knew what I wanted. When I was
forty, my doubts resurfaced. When I was fifty, I
discovered that Heaven has a plan for me and
for each man on the face of the Earth. When I
was sixty, I understood that plan and found the
serenity to follow it. Now that I'm seventy, I
can listen to my heart, but without letting it
distract me from the path.'
'So what makes you different from other
men who have also accepted the will of
'I try to share it with you. And anyone
wanting to discuss an ancient truth with a new
generation has to use his capacity to teach. That
is my one quality, being a good teacher.'
'And what is a good teacher?'
'Someone who questions everything he
teaches. Old ideas cannot enslave a man,
because they change and take on new forms. So
let us use the philosophical riches of the past,
but without forgetting the challenges that the
present world sets before us.'
'And what is a good student?'
'Someone who listens to what I say, but
adapts my teachings to his life and never follows
them blindly. Someone who looks not just for
employment, but for a job that brings him
dignity. Someone who does not seek to be
noticed, but to do something notable.'