During those 13 years, he wandered around different provinces of China, accompanied by a few disciples, looking for elevated souls who would appreciate his philosophical ideas.
In this respect, Confucius was following one of his own precepts: “Seek out companions who are honest, truthful, and knowledgeable. Avoid those who are arrogant, lie, or compromise their principles.”
In the year 484 B.C., after the long pilgrimage, Confucius returned to his old town. He was tired of travelling and disappointed with the people he had met.
His long search for perfect associates had been a failure. In all places he had visited, he had only met scorn, ignorance, and disdain for knowledge.
When Confucius settled down again in his town, he was already 68 years old. Since he knew that he would not live much longer, he asked himself how he should devote the remaining time of his life.
A lesser man might have become sorrowful and bitter, but not Confucius. He was honest and clever enough to look at his previous 13 years and recognize that he had made a mistake.
He had been searching for something that did not exist. He had been wandering the desert in pursue of a mirage. “Perfect places and perfect people do not exist,” he concluded. “Those are not the result of nature, but of our own making.”
During the next 5 years, until the day of his death, Confucius changed his strategy.
- He gave up all attempts to preach to strangers.
- He decided to focus his efforts on teaching those who were willing to listen to him.
- He avoided heated arguments with anyone who disagreed with him.
“Each man has the right to believe his own foolish ideas, to refuse to face the facts of reality, and to make his own mistakes,” is an insight to which many come only after a long series of disappointing experiences.
For Confucius, that process of discovery took 13 years. Luckily, he made up for the wasted time during the remaining 5 years of his life, which he devoted to writing and to teaching a few loyal disciples in his own town.
Those followers were the men who would later spread Confucius' teachings across China, setting up the basis for transmitting his writings through the centuries.
None of us needs to repeat Confucius' mistake. The lesson has been taught and should be learned forever. Nobody has to waste 13 years of his life preaching in a desert of ignorance.
If you have something valuable to say or something worthy to sell, there is no point in devoting your energies to convincing those who do not care.
Instead, seek out those who can appreciate it and forget about the rest. Life is too short for chasing what cannot be achieved.
[Image by jmctee under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]