01 March 2011

Understanding The Doctrine of the Mean in One Minute

The Doctrine of the Mean, 中庸,  Zhongyong is one of the four books of Ru Jia, the School of Confucius Teachings. The author, Zi Si 子思 wrote it down so as to preserve its accuracy, as a handbook for the Ru School and taught it to Mencius.

The first Chinese word zhong 中 stands for right at the center, mid-point, just right, no more and no less, not bending toward either side, or in perfect balanced, or at the pivot.

The second word yong 庸 stands for common or universal. Hence, the Doctrine of the Mean, ZhongYong, should be translated as the Universal Law of Centrality or Just-Rightness or Balanced. It is the right way of behavior for common men.

I just wish to add that from the teaching of I-ching, this balanced is not a static one but a dynamic one. It shall depend on the situation, the forces and the stakeholders at play. We continue to maintain balance as the situation changes - it is not a one off thing.

As an example, should a leader lead from the front or from the back? 

The answer given  by a the CEO of a listed company with worldwide presence is that he sometimes leads from the front, sometimes from the back, sometimes in the middle and sometimes from the sidelines.

  • For a start up or a new project, may be the leader should be at the front so that others can follow his lead. The pivot then is at the front. 
  • For an established company, when developing the younger managers, the pivot could be at the middle or at the back depending on the capability and maturity of the younger managers. 
  • When they are fully developed, then the pivot should be at the sidelines, giving advice only when needed, ensuring the governance and let the 2nd generation run the show.

The Mind Map of Doctrine of the Mean


Ideal state is Rightly Balanced Harmony

Chapter 1:5 致中和,天地位焉,万物育焉. tells us that the ideal state is “rightly balanced fair and unbiased harmony”.

That is the position of heaven and earth and the abundant reproduction of all living things.

It also proclaimed that this is the law or the way of heaven and that man should follow and not depart from it.

There are therefore two key thoughts – centrally balanced and harmony. They  both work like two sides of a coin. If we don’t go to the extremes but hold the extreme in balanced, we can have harmony. If we have harmony of differences working together well, we must have hold the right balance.

The teaching is then about telling the leaders, the government and the kings, how to move and sustain the ideal state of centrally balanced pivot where optimum harmony and synergy is reached.

Love is the Way – People Centered Management

The main teaching of how to govern a country  is about having love and compassion for the people. It could be called “People Centered Management”.

Chapter 20 is long chapter but contains the key ideas for governing a country.
  • 20:3 people centered way smooth the operation of governing, earth centered way facilitates growth of trees. 
  • v4 Governing is the responsibility of man. Select the people by their character. Character is built by following the Way. Following the Way begins with Love(Compassion).
One major teaching of the Ru School on ruling the world is to starts with character building of oneself , then run the family well, then rule the country and then the world. This concept is covered in depth in Da Xue, The Great Learning. We will cover this in a future post.

What is Love?

20:5 「仁者,人也,亲亲为大。 义者,宜也,尊贤为大。亲亲之杀,尊贤之等,礼所生也。 」
Love (Compassion) is about people. The main thing is about caring and being intimate with your close ones (relatives or friends). Righteousness is about suitability.  The key thing is about respecting the capable (talented people). When there is no love, no respect for the able, then you need to have rules of conduct.  We can see here that the best form of motivation and management is intrinsic motivation. It is behavior from the inside. When we need to use rules to force behavior, we are operating at a lower level of performance.

Types of Relationships

20:8 tells us that there are five kinds of relationships.
  1. King and his officers. In modern term – Bosses and Staff
  2. Parent and Children.
  3. Husband and Wife.
  4. Brothers and Sisters (Older and Younger)
  5. Friends.
3 Ways to Develop Character and One way to grow.
  1. Knowledge/Widsom 智 – like to learn is close to knowledge.
  2. Love (Compassion) 仁 – doing good work is close to love.
  3. Boldness 勇 – knowing shame is close to boldness. (dare to face up to one’s mistakes and take corrective action is boldness).
The way to grow is to do the three things – ever learning, loving and boldly do the right things (not shameful things).

Integrity, Sincerity 诚, Trust 信, Keeping Promises are the Way of Heaven. (20:17-18)
There are many other chapters and verses that cover trust and sincerity.

The teaching of Ru School stressed on five values of Love 仁, righteousness  义, rules of  conduct (good manners) 礼,  knowledge 智, and trust 信 as in as in Sang Zi Jing(Three Character Bible). We have covered all the five here and have one more – Boldness 勇。

Jack Welch, former chairman of GE,like to promote a quality, candor, which is about openness, fair mindedness, honesty and bold. It overlaps with a few of the attributes of ZhongYong.

Leadership begins with develop oneself, serving one relatives, understanding people and the ways of heaven.

The Nine Laws of Governing (20:12-14)
  1. Develop Character. Know the right ways. Have integrity. Dress appropriately. Don’t break the rules of good conduct.
  2. Respect the Capable. Then one will not be confused. Get rid of the inferior evil little people. Stay away from sexual lusts. Think lightly of wealth but value good moral.
  3. Love and Care for your Relatives. Then there will be no complains and hatred from your relatives. Put them in higher positions and give them high salary. Share their love and hates (i.e. same values and beliefs). In present time, may be ‘relatives’ can refer to those people that are close and trust worthy to you.
  4. Respect the High Ranking Officers. Then when crisis come there will be no panic. Support them with many staff. i.e. increase their span of control and allocated resources.
  5. Compassionate towards All officers. Then they will committed in serving you. Truthfully put them into the right jobs. Pay them well.
  6. Love the People like your children. Then you gain loyalty. Let them harvest at the right time. Collect less taxes.
  7. Employ the Craftsmen. Then you will have abundance of goods. Monitor their productivity regularly and reward them accordingly.
  8. Treat the Foreigners well. Then all the people around will be obedient and follow your leading. Welcome them when they come. Send them off well. Rewards those that are able and help those that are in needs.
  9. Gain the following of the Feudal Lords.Then all the people in the world will respect you. Help the lost countries to stand up again. Stop the rioting. Solve the crisis. Regularly accept their requests for paying respects. Accept their gifts and return, shower them with a greater abundance of gifts.
Applying the 9 laws in business

Perhaps we can treat the people as our customers, foreigners as foreign talents or subcontractors, feudal lords as our suppliers or even competitors.  The lessons seem to be to treat all of them well with love, respect, right assignment of jobs and corresponding high salary and rewards. Our competitors in one deal may be our partners in another deals. Building good relationship with all is a key for long term and global success. See also the 3 Objective and 8 Steps taught in The Great Learning DaXue.

Planning (20:16)
Everything being with a plan so that there could be success. Prepare first, then negotiate and get agreement before taking actions so as to prevent premature stoppages, pains and poverty when you execute your plan.

Learning (20:9,19-21) – Just DO IT! It gets better by practicing.
  1. Know it whether by birth, by learning or forced by circumstances.
  2. Do it till success; whether in good time, for profits, or be forced to do it.
  3. How we learn:
    1. as broad as can be
    2. question it
    3. meditate on it
    4. discern it.
    5. practice it often.
    Repeat 1-5 until you fully understand it.
  4. I try harder. Some people do once and get it. I may do hundred to get it. Some do ten times, I do thousand times.
  5. If we learn like above, then the dump becomes bright and the weak become strong.
Lim Liat Copyright 2011 Feb
(updated 8 March 2011, edited again 22 Sep 2011)
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