Continued from Part 4: The father of Japan’s capitalist economy is Shibusawa Eiichi (涩泽荣一) (1840-1931), a highly respected Japanese industrialist. Guided by his study of Confucius’ Analects, Shibusawa brought Western capitalism to Japan, but with a core emphasis on morality and business ethics.
Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?
Throughout his career, Shibusawa helped found hundreds of Japanese corporations and spearhead economic reforms, thereby building the foundation of Japan’s modern economy.
Even in his later years, he continued to work tirelessly for Japan’s society and economy by sharing his vast experience with others.
A practicing Confucianist, Shibusawa made sure to apply Confucian principles to his everyday life. One of these principles was “overflow in love to all”, which is to treat every person with compassion regardless of their background or character.
‘Overflowing in Love to All’
During the process of building Japan’s economy, Shibusawa was frequently consulted for his experience and business acumen. Although some of these people were known to have bad reputations, Shibusawa did not discriminate against them. He always granted them an audience, as well as his advice and help.
Many people could not understand Shibusawa’s behaviour. They felt he was too lenient in accepting invites and interacting with all kinds of people, including those who lacked morality and character.
But in his book The Analects and the Abacus, under the chapter “Seeing Kindness in Evil”, Shibusawa explains his rationale:
“Since entering the business world, my interactions with others have increased exponentially. Naturally, this includes interacting with people that have impure intentions, who seek my expertise in starting an enterprise. Even if their motives are selfish or opposite to my moral values, the only thing I consider is if their enterprise is ultimately beneficial to society. If it is, I will support them to achieve their goal.”
Even if their motives are selfish or opposite to my moral values, the only thing I consider is if their enterprise is ultimately beneficial to society. If it is, I will support them to achieve their goal.
“While I would have liked to focus on building my career, I prefer to contribute to society meaningfully and improve the country. Therefore, I have placed society and country ahead of my personal interests, such as my reputation and material gains. With that in mind, my main concern is how I can help society, by helping others maximise their talents in suitable positions. However, I did not expect my actions to incur so much misunderstanding.”
Shibusawa treated reporters and writers the same way. Whenever they requested an interview, he would accommodate their request despite his packed schedule. He believed that, as long as the other party genuinely wanted to share useful information with society, it was his duty to meet with and support them.
Selflessly Accommodating Others
Shibusawa had the right understanding of the principle “overflow in love to all”. He did not discriminate or impose his ideals on others, nor did he choose who he wanted to interact with based on emotions or personal preference. Instead, he treated everyone with kindness like a true gentleman.
Confucius had 3,000 disciples, each of whom had different natures, expertise and morality. But Confucius accepted anyone who approached him for mentorship as his disciple. He did not discriminate or choose who he wanted to teach. After all, his goal was to spread morality to the people, including those who lacked moral values.
Confucius once said, “Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” In other words, a virtuous person is not emotionally affected by what others think of him. He treats everyone equally, regardless of their background, character, or feelings toward him.
Sticking to His Principles
Like a true disciple of Confucius, Shibusawa was selfless in sacrificing his time and energy to help others realise their goals, regardless of their character or motives. As such, people from all levels of society came to seek his help and guidance.
Yet, despite his kindness, Shibusawa also ensured that his actions were righteous. He did not let others take advantage of him to do immoral deeds. In one example, a person approached Shibusawa with various excuses to borrow money from him. Despite the person’s many unreasonable requests, Shibusawa would still meet up with him and explain why he could not lend him the money, convincing him with righteous reasoning.
Righteousness is one of the five core virtues in Confucianism. Shibusawa upheld this virtue by ensuring his actions were righteous. This included putting his country ahead of his personal interests and fulfilling his duty to society, by helping other Japanese entrepreneurs establish businesses to build Japan’s economy. It also included ensuring that the business would ultimately benefit Japan’s society and country, regardless of the entrepreneur’s original motives.
Yet, despite his kindness, Shibusawa also ensured that his actions were righteous. He did not let others take advantage of him to do immoral deeds.
With his generosity and principled mindset, Shibusawa set the ethical standards for Japan’s business community. He is an example of a true leader.