孔子不问马 Valuing people more than possessions

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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