The Duke of Ai asked about government. Confucius said: “The records of the governments of Wen and Wu are on the ancient tablets. When they had the right people, the government functioned, and when they didn’t have the right people, government failed. When people are right, the government flourishes; when the ground is right, plants flourish; the governments of Wen and Wu flourished like fast-growing weeds.”
Therefore, the skillful handling of government is contingent upon having the right people. You attract the right people by your own character. You cultivate your character through the Way and you manifest the Way by means of ren. ren is “humanity” 2 and its most obvious function is in love for relatives. “Justice” 義 means “setting things right” and its most obvious function is in venerating the Good. The differing levels in loving relatives and venerating the good are expressed through propriety.
Thus, if your rank is low, and you do not have the support of those in power, you cannot hope to have an influence on government. Therefore the Superior man cannot but cultivate his character.
Wanting to cultivate his character, he cannot do it without serving his parents. Wanting to serve his parents, he cannot do it without understanding others. Wanting to understand others, he cannot do it without understanding Heaven.
There are five pervasive 達 relationships in this world, which are carried out in three ways. The relationships are those between ruler and minister, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and between friends. The three ways of practice are wisdom, ren and courage, but they are practiced in unison.
Some are born knowing it; some know it by learning and some have to struggle to know it. Nonetheless, the knowledge is the same.
Some practice it by being comfortable within it; some practice it by benefitting from it; and some have to struggle to practice it. But when the practice is perfected, it is the same.
In all affairs, if you plan ahead you can be successful, and if you don’t plan ahead, you will fail. If you are prepared before you speak, you won’t be tongue-tied. If you are prepared before you begin a job, you won’t have complications. If you are prepared before you act, you won’t have to be sorry. If you are prepared before teaching, you won’t run out of material.
Again, if you are in a position of low rank, and you have no influence above, you will have no way of governing people. Even though there is a way of influencing superiors, if your friends don’t trust you, you won’t be able to influence superiors. Even though there is a way of gaining the trust of your friends, if you have discord with your relatives, you will not be trusted by your friends. Even though there is a way of having harmony with your relatives, if your character is not sincere, you will have discord with your relatives. Even though there is a way to make your character sincere, if you have not awakened to your goodness, you will not be able to make your character sincere.
Sincerity is the Way of Heaven. Making oneself sincere is the Way of Man. If you can be perfectly sincere without effort, without concern regarding its attainment, and walk embracing the Middle Way, you are a sage.
If you are working at making yourself sincere, you must find your goodness and hold fast to it. You must study it broadly, investigate it in detail, deliberate on it carefully, discern it clearly and practice it universally. Where there is a lack in your understanding, or your study has not yet reached the point where it is effective, don’t just leave it. When there is something you have investigated, or investigated but not understood, don’t just leave it. When there is something that you have not yet discerned, or discerned but not yet clarified, don’t just leave it. When there is something you have not yet practiced, or have practiced, but not yet universally, don’t just leave it.
If someone else gets it in one try, I will try one hundred times. If someone else gets it in ten tries, I will try one thousand times. If you are able to follow this Way, then even if you are stupid, you will become enlightened. Even if you are weak, you will become strong.
Source: The Doctrine of the Mean 中庸: 20