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Upright Character

In China’s later Han era, there lived a politician called Yang Zhen, a man known for his upright character. After Yang Zhen was made a provincial governor, one of his earlier patrons, Wang Mi, paid him an unexpected visit. As they talked over old times, Wang Mi brought out a large gold cup and presented it to Yang Zhen. Yang Zhen refused to accept it, but Wang Mi persisted, saying, “There’s no one here tonight but you and me, so no one will know.”

“You say that no one will know,” Yang Zhen replied, “but that is not true. Heaven will know, and you and I will know too.”

Wang Mi was ashamed, and backed down. Subsequently Yang Zhen’s integrity won increasing recognition, and he rose to a high post in the central government.

Human nature is weak, and we tend to yield to temptation when we think nobody can see us. In fact, if there was no police force, many people would not hesitate to steal. This is not to say that when we do something bad, we feel no compunction at all, just that man is weak and prone to yield to temptation.

But even if nobody witnesses our sins, and not a soul knows of them, we cannot hide the truth from the eyes of our conscience. In the end, what is important is not that other people know, but that we ourselves know. When Yang Zhen told Wang Mi that “Heaven will know,” he meant that the gods would know what he had done: in other words, his own conscience.

A person who sins neither in thought nor deed, and is fair and just, gains enormous courage and strength. As a leader, you need courage born of integrity in order to be capable of powerful leadership. To achieve this courage, you must search your heart, and make sure that your conscience is clear and your behavior is beyond reproach.

Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic in his book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (PHP Institute, Tokyo), Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.