Ren: Goodness

The greatest of these virtues is ren. Ren literally means “two-man,” signifying kindness between people. Ren is about being courteous, respectful, and loyal. Confucius wrote:

As for ren, you yourself desire rank and standing; then help others to get rank and standing. You want to turn your merits into profit; then help others to turn theirs into profit. In fact, the ability to take one’s own feelings as a guide—that is the sort of thing that lies in the direction of ren.

On another occasion, he said:

The master said, “Unwavering [in integrity], resolute [in one’s moral conviction], simple as wood and hesitant to speak—these qualities come close to being ren.”


“When encountering matters that involve ren, do not yield even to your teacher.”

In describing this way of life, Confucius taught one of the first formulations of the golden rule:

Zhonggong asked about ren. The Master said, “When abroad, conduct yourself as if you were receiving an honored guest. When employing the people in your state, deport yourself as if you have been put in charge of a grand sacrifice. Do not impose on others what you do not desire for yourself. In this way, you will not incur any resentment whether your work is in the state or in a hereditary family.”

Just like Jesus, Confucius concluded that the golden rule was the most important principle in life:

Zigong asked, “Is there a single word that can serve as the guide to conduct throughout life?” The Master said, “It is perhaps the word ‘shu.’ Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want others to impose on you.”

Confucius ren golden rule honored guest impose on others