Leadership Lessons from Confucius: similar by nature
Confucius said: “People are similar by nature; they diverge through their habits.”
Never underestimate the importance of culture in shaping your attitudes and behaviors. If you work in an environment that inhibits independent thinking and penalizes mistakes, it will not take you long to learn that the there is no point in risking putting your head above the parapet to offer a new idea or a different perspective. If, on the other hand, you work in an environment that promotes creative thinking and embraces risk-taking, you will find it natural to contribute to discussions and take on new challenges.
This article features a translation of Chapter 2 of Book 17 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 17 here.
(1) Although Confucius touches on the nature versus nature debate in a few passages in the Analects, it was Mencius who explored the argument in much greater depth with his famous contention that all people were born fundamentally good. Xunzi, another great Confucian philosopher, went in the opposite direction, claiming that human nature was fundamentally bad.
(2) In this chapter, Confucius is suggesting that the environment people live in and the habits they acquire have the greatest impact on the development of their personalities. If they receive a sound ethical education and are surrounded by good role models, they will be more likely to inculcate the practices and behaviors required for making a meaningful contribution towards the good of their family and society at large. The constant refinement of these practices and behaviors through self-cultivation and ritual is a lifelong process. It is essential to keep on sharpening the saw.
I took this image in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.