The Analects​ of Confucius: A Brief Summary & Review

Born in 551 BC in present-day China, Confucius is one of the most influential thinkers to have ever lived. The Analects are a collection of his thoughts and conversations on a range of topics from leadership and education to wisdom and love.

While Confucius’s philosophy is often characterized as quite traditional— emphasizing piety, loyalty, respect for one’s ancestors, and propriety in one’s relationships—a close reading of his thought is surprisingly applicable to many of our seemingly modern dilemmas:

  • How do I find a good mentor or coach?
  • Why is it so hard to stick with my goals?
  • What’s the best way to handle failure and setbacks?

What follows is a collection of my favorite quotes and passages from Confucius’s Analects along with my own brief thoughts and reflections.


On Thinking

If you learn but do not think, you will be dazed. If you think but do not learn, you will be in danger.

Thinking and learning are dangerous in isolation but powerful in harmony.

On Character

The mistakes people make reflect the type of person each one is. Observe their mistakes, and you will know their character.

When we begin to fail, we lose our composure and our psychological defenses shudder, leaving our true self exposed.

On Goals

Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position.

Don’t worry about not being a best-selling author yet; worry about not writing every day.

Don’t worry about not being at your goal weight yet; worry about the junk food you continue buying week after week.

Don’t worry about outcomes over which you have no control. Worry about the actions you can control that will lead you to your outcome.

On Virtue

Virtue does not stand alone. It is bound to have neighbors.

You can’t will your way into virtue. Virtue is like a seed that has to be planted, cultivated, and tended to.

A beautiful flower won’t grow well in a bed of weeds.

On Harmony

The gentleman harmonizes without being an echo. The petty man echoes and does not harmonize.

Ask yourself:

  • In what area of my life do I echo, merely mimicking back what I hear and experience?
  • In what area of my life do I harmonize, attuned to other people’s voices, and creatively complementing them with my own?

On Mentors

The gentleman is easy to serve and difficult to please… The petty man is difficult to serve but easy to please.

Good advice for anyone trying to find a mentor, teacher, coach, therapist, or counselor of any kind.

Look for someone who difficult to please (they have high standards) but easy to serve (they are generous and gracious).

On Love

When you love someone, how can you not encourage him to work hard?

Premise 1: Loving someone means wanting the best for that person and aligning your actions with that value.

Premise 2: Nearly everyone values doing good work, striving to achieve our potential, embracing our calling.

Conclusion: One of the best ways to love someone is to help and encourage them in their quest to work hard at whatever matters most to them.

On Wisdom

Not to speak to a man who is capable of absorbing what you say is to let the man go to waste. To speak to a man who is incapable of absorbing what you say is to let your words go to waste. A person of wisdom does not let either men or words go to waste.

This is a version of the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

On Mistakes

To make a mistake and not correct it—now that is called making a mistake.

The best way to avoid big mistakes is to be gentle with yourself in little mistakes.

On Learning

Once I spent a whole day thinking, not bothering to eat, and a whole night thinking, not bothering to sleep, but I gained nothing from it. It would have been better if I’d spend the time learning something.

Deep thinking results from deep learning more often than deep learning resulting from deep thinking.

When in doubt, learn something.

On Advice

When your paths are different, there is no point in seeking advice from one another.

Lots of experience and knowledge may be necessary for good advice, but they’re not sufficient without shared values.


On Life

If you are large-minded, you will win the hearts of the people. If you are trustworthy, people will have confidence in you. If you are quick in response, you will get things done. If you are just, people will be pleased.

Be generous.

Be consistent.

Be decisive.

Be fair.

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