ObamaIn President Obama’s ASU commencement speech on May12, 2009 he said,

“In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one’s life has been led – and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”

In this statement, Obama achieves the ancient Chinese Sage Mencius‘s definition of the worthy leader. The Confucian project, of which Mencius was the greatest mind, was to cultivate virtuous leaders by teaching them that they needed to work on self-cultivation, on improving themselves, ceaselessly. These philosophers believed that the good of all was dependent on the good of the individual — especially our leaders — and that this required continuous effort and learning.

Obama goes on to encourage every student to use this as their guiding principle in life. Rather than getting caught up in the shallow rewards offered by materialism he inspires them to commit themselves to the harder, nobler path of the new Bhakti Marga, a devotion to the daily work. He goes on to say,

“That is what building a body of work is all about – it’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star – because one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished. It’s cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, and give back, and contribute to the life of this nation. You may have set-backs, and you may have failures, but you’re not done – not by a longshot.”

The wisest human beings to have graced our planet, from Mencius through Obama carry the same message. Will we listen? It all begins with you. With working on yourself. Are you willing to commit to working on yourself every day for the rest of your life? What are you going to do today to improve yourself? What are you going to do today to make the world a better place?

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