Another bit of sagely advice from Confucius comes from the Analects of Confucius, book 16, verse 12, courtesy of Prof. Charles A.C. Muller’s online translation:
[16:12] Duke Ching of Qi had a thousand teams of horses, but when he died, there was nothing for which the people could praise him. Boyi and Shuqi died of starvation at the foot of Shouyang mountain, and the people praise them up till this day. What meaning can you glean from this?
Bóyí (伯夷, sounds like “boh yee”) and Shūqí (叔齐, sounds like “shoo chee”) were two legendary brothers from the ancient Shang Dynasty, who refused to take the crown out of principle. Instead, they sequestered themselves in mountain cave until they died of starvation.
The point that Confucius is making isn’t one about martyrdom. It’s about principle. There are plenty of people today who get rich through business, but after 30-40 years are utterly forgotten. In the dot-com boom in the 90′s plenty of people made money, but few are remembered anymore. Even when people are remembered, it’s usually not so much in a positive, but more matter-of-fact. The same of course applies to politicians and other people with power.
What distinguishes people in a positive way, and ensures their “immortality” in a sense is going against the grain of society for the sake of virtue and people’s welfare.
It reminds me of a certain quotation from the Dao De Jing (again courtesy of Prof. Muller):
The reason the river and sea can be regarded as
The rulers of all the valley streams
Is because of their being below them.
Therefore they can be their rulers.
So if you want to be over people
You must speak humbly to them.
If you want to lead them
You must place yourself behind them.
Thus the sage is positioned above
And the people do not feel oppressed.
He is in front and they feel nothing wrong.
Therefore they like to push him front and never resent him.
Food for thought, fellow readers.