Zhuge LiangDaily Musings -7/3/09 – “Honorable People”

Zhuge Liang, a brilliant strategist, philosopher, artist, musician, inventor, and prime minister of the Three Kingdoms era in China (he was born about 180 C.E. {AD}) was a student of Taoism and studied the Tao Teh Ching, the Art of War, and the I Ching heavily.

Known for his idealistic attempts to cause as little harm in war as possible, he wrote many scrolls on leadership, crisis management, and personal cultivation–some of which have been lost to antiquity. We are lucky to have some of his writings preserved even now, millenia later. Thomas Cleary offers a commendable translation of his timeless thoughts.

Zhuge Liang’s personal motto was:

“Opportunistic relationships can hardly be kept constant.

The acquaintance of honorable people, even at a distance, does not add flowers in times of warmth and does not change its leaves in times of cold: it continues unfading through the four seasons, becomes increasingly stable as it passes through ease and danger.”

Sounds like a warning against fairweather friends, tenuous networking, and social-ladder-climbers who would use you in times of success and abandon you in times of distress? You’re absolutely correct. Zhuge Liang warned that many are treacherous, appearing to be warm and friendly, while keeping an eye out for what they can get, how they can gain more, who they can entrap and connect with, and how they can use others. This reminder to be mindfully aware and cautious permeates his “Way of the General” scroll. When you are surrounded by honorable people, they won’t add a feather to your cap in times of success–and they also won’t flee when you’re in trouble. They are there, all the time. Unfading. Permanent. Reliable. Trustworthy.

No–this isn’t entreating an X-Files-like sense of paranoia, that everyone is out to get everyone else, and that they’re all plotting against one another. Rather, it’s a gentle reminder to keep your eyes and ears open for both the honorable AND the dishonorable. In every situation. Just be aware. Receive life, but always be open.

It seems silly that we would need to remind ourselves to surround ourselves with people who are true and forthright, but it’s a concept easily forgotten in the modern world. Especially when people are fradulently nice and no one could ever see them as anything otherwise.

The Tao Teh Ching reminds us that:
“True words aren’t beautiful. Beautiful words aren’t true.”

(sometimes translated as sweet/nice words). The sickeningly sweet layer of falsity that so often conceals mal intent was a problem over a thousand years ago. It’s still troubling today.

Hold onto the center. Trust your intuition. Be true and compassionate toward yourself. Be true and compassionate toward others. The honorable will rise to the surface. They are the ones who will be there for you, whether you’ve brushed your hair, failed that big test, lost everything, won everything, given everything up. They have got your back, even when they don’t seem to know where you are. Trust is everything.

And always remember the other side of the coin:

“To lose trust by trying to gain an advantage is a mistake made by men of old.” – Zhuge Liang.