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Two stories about animals

孔子生活在春秋战国时期,当时马比仆人或者养马的人要珍贵,地位要高。马棚着火以后,孔子先问人,而后才问马。体现了孔子一贯的“仁者爱人”思想,可见“不问马”证明了孔子对人的关怀。

Story in “Analect” records that one day, Confucius’ horse stable caught fire. Instead of asking about the horses, he asked if everyone was alright, anyone hurt. Although horses were precious asset, more valuable than the lives of his stable hands and servants, he demonstrated that he considered, human lives more important. (I am sure that Confucius was attached to his horses too.)

丙吉问牛
bǐng jí wèn niú

Another parallel story in Analects is about a cow. Premier BingJi asking about the cow.

西汉宣帝时期,丞相丙吉十分关心百姓的疾苦,他经常外出考察民情,一次外出,他见一群人在斗殴,他没有去制止,而看到一头牛在吃力地拉车。他却停下叫人去询问,下属说他只重畜不重人,他解释说牛影响农事,直接影响到了国计民生。看到牛的异常想起天气变化,赞扬官员关心百姓疾苦。

One day while travelling through the villages to survey how his citizens were living, Bingji saw a few men fighting. Yet he did not intervene.

Later in his journeys he saw a sick cow and send his attendants to enquire about the condition of the cow.

Surprised, his attendants asked why he was more concerned about a cow than humans. Bingji explained that he did not interfere in the matter of the men fighting because that was the jurisdiction of the local authorities.

However, the sick cow may signal an unexpected weather change or epidemic that could affect the harvest and the livelihood of the peoples under his charge (China was predominantly an agriculture country in those days.)

When we lead and manage corporations and nations, do we value our employees more than the balance sheet?

Money is important and all nations and companies need to stay afloat and excel. Shareholder returns are important. Digitalisation of the economy is for the ease of lives. Not the enslavement of another human being.

Disruptive technology has worked in a large part to capture shareholder value but at the same time remove certainty of employment and other benefits to the owner of labor.

Will disruptive technology also disrupt the dignity of labor? And instead reduce the price of labor to the constant haggling we see in markets of third world nations? (We call that demand and supply to sound more posh.) Will it lead to the enslavement of one group of people with another group.

But in the deepest of hearts, do we sometimes forget that people are not tools for our purpose.

When we look at the balance sheet of a successful company, do we ask how they treat the workers of production ?

Upgrading of skills, salary. Do they disrupt without creating value for families and homes? Do we measure success from only the view point of shareholder returns?

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磨刀不误砍柴工 
mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng

Grinding an axe will not hold up [delay] the work of cutting firewood. Spending time preparing your axe may quicken the speed of your work.

Story goes that two men were chopping wood. One started ahead. The second man just continued grinding his axe. The first man, very conceited, was anxious to find out who fell more trees ? It was the second man.

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Photo of Ainu carving by master wood carver Takeki Fujito in Tsuruga Wings Lake Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

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Desk of Japanese Carver Kengo at Lake Akan Ainu village

Half way through chopping, the first man’s axe had become dull and blunt and it took him more effort and time to fall one tree.

工 欲 善 其 事,必 先 利其器
gōng yù shàn qí shì,bì xiān lì qí qì

“工欲善其事,必先利其器”
孔子告诉子贡,工艺的人,要想把工作完成,应该先把工具准备好。

What then for someone who manages the state?

居是邦也
Jū shì bāng yě

事其大夫之贤者,友其士之仁者
Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě

孔子说:“工匠要做好工作,必须先磨快工具。住在一个国家,要侍奉大夫中的贤人,与士人中的仁人交朋友。” 

那么为仁是用什么工具呢?住在这个国家,想对国家有所贡献,必须结交上流社会有道德的人才,乃至政坛上的大员,政府的中坚;和这个国家社会上各种贤达的人,都要交成朋友。有了良好的关系,然后才能得到有所贡献的机会,完成仁的目的。
Source: Baidu with words in italics added by me

(The Baidu translation gives the impression that Confucius advised one should network with the rich, influential and powerful. But Confuscius emphasised seeking out the benevolent ones because his disciple Zigong’s question was on benevolence (仁).

When asked by his disciple how one should prepare to manage his country benevolently, Confucius noted in the “Analects” that just as a workman has to prepare his tools, an official preparing to govern a country benevolently must prepare his tools too.

Confucius advised that (humans being social creatures), one should seek out and befriend good and respectable talent in all levels of society.

How does a knowledge worker polish his tools?

Today, Confucius would have advised us, knowledge worker, what is the tool of your trade? Have you been spending time polishing it before cutting your tree.

Translation and reinterpretation by me.

As labour gets increasingly expensive, in the service industry in Japan, there are ways to involve the customer.

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Self service ordering of food via vending machine.

Take your own water, cutlery and tray.

Some of the hotels have big bottles of toiletries but no disposable lotion. For that, you go to the communal baths, albeit designed beautifully and using good quality stuff.

Here in Pan de Pan bakery at Lake Akan, toast your bread, sort out your rubbish and return tray.

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Plus eco friendly decor like this tree with wood shavings as leaves.

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There is a free hot spring for your feet just outside the Bakery.

For work-life balance, the cafe is closed on Monday and Wednesday. Opened from 830am to 630pm.

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I love the bitter caramel puff which cost 220 Yen and the pumkin danish 80 Yen. The delicious cakes are 380 Yen each. You can eat in or take out.

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Self check in and out at the Richmond Hotel in Obihiro. (The male reception was very helpful and did it for me. But I later realised when I saw a Japanese guest work the machine. )

Japan is still a highly service oriented culture. The Cashier at the supermarket does not give out free plastic bags. Cost about 3 Yen each. But she will pack your items neatly into the basket as she scans their price code.