The father of Japan’s capitalist economy is Shibusawa Eiichi (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.
In this series, we look at Shibusawa’s philosophy and understanding of Confucius’ teachings, which guided the creation of Japan’s modern economy.
It is not uncommon for university graduates to find themselves in a less-than-ideal job. But sometimes, even those who have their dream jobs are unhappy.
They may resent their bosses for not allowing them to utilise their full potential, for not appreciating their efforts, or for overlooking them in job promotions. When they see their juniors being “treated better” than them, they begrudge the unfairness of it all.
But based on his personal experience, Shibusawa felt that this was the wrong mindset to have. He brought up this quote by Confucius: “If you wish to be established yourself, seek also to establish others; if you wish to be enlarged yourself, seek also to enlarge others.”
If you wish to be established yourself, seek also to establish others; if you wish to be enlarged yourself, seek also to enlarge others.
Let’s delve deeper into this quote and how Shibusawa felt it could help young adults overcome resentment in their careers.
Respecting the Superior’s Decision
In his book The Analects and the Abacus, Shibusawa wrote: “Any person who delegates work will never assign an important task to someone who lacks experience. Even the great Toyotomi Hideyoshi (one of the three generals who unified Japan) began as a subordinate of Oda Nobunaga (the main general who unified Japan), performing menial tasks like bringing his shoes.
“Some young adults complain that their bosses lack foresight. They feel that, as highly educated workers, they should not need to do simple, intern-level tasks like calculations and recording transactions.
“But that is the wrong mindset to have. Although it may seem like an inefficient use of manpower, when superiors delegate minor tasks to their junior staff, they have their own reasons for doing so. As such, junior staff should respect their superiors’ decisions and do their jobs dutifully, instead of harbouring unjust feelings or demanding explanations from their superiors.”
Although it may seem like an inefficient use of manpower, when superiors delegate minor tasks to their junior staff, they have their own reasons for doing so.
In other words, superiors do not just delegate work based on one’s qualifications. They also assign minor tasks to help us gain experience. If we cannot even accomplish these minor tasks, they will not feel confident in entrusting us with more important tasks.
Superiors also assign minor tasks to help us gain experience. If we cannot even accomplish these minor tasks, they will not feel confident in entrusting us with more important tasks.
In addition, this is also a chance for our superiors to observe our working attitude. A worker who only thinks for himself and his qualifications, and who fails to consider others or the team, is of little value to the company. Most important tasks can only be accomplished as a team, no matter how capable or talented one may be.
A self-centred worker cares only about his own abilities, and looks down on others who appear less capable than him. As a result, he may treat his colleagues or subordinates with disrespect, and fail to work well with them. How can such a worker be entrusted with important tasks?
This is why Confucius said, “If you wish to be established yourself, seek also to establish others.” When we are humble and keen to help our fellow colleagues, when we take on even minor tasks dutifully, we will touch others with our selflessness and work ethic. Others will naturally take notice and value you as a worker, and assign you to bigger tasks or higher job positions.
Helping Others Become Established Is the Route to Success
Unfortunately, the Confucian quote “If you wish to be established yourself, seek also to establish others” has often been misinterpreted. Some people think it means we can only help others after becoming established ourselves. As such, they use this as an excuse to avoid helping others, by claiming they have yet to establish their own wealth, career, or abilities.
In fact, it is the converse that is true—if we want to achieve our goals, we need to simultaneously help others achieve their goals. Otherwise, why would others care to help us at all?
You are not the only one who wants to be respected and acknowledged—doesn’t everyone want that too? As such, regardless of our job or social status, we must respect others including those we deem less capable than ourselves. We must respect our superiors’ decisions and treat everyone with the same kindness.
By supporting and treating others with respect, they will naturally be moved and grateful when you help them achieve their goals. And in most cases, they will be willing to help you as well.
Therefore, this Confucian quote exhorts us to put others before ourselves. When we help our fellow colleagues complete a job according to our bosses’ instructions, or help them achieve their targets with greater ease, won’t they see all that you have done for them?
Similarly, when we carry out our superiors’ instructions sincerely, when we perform our tasks responsibly, they will feel delighted and more relaxed. Any superior with laid-back, unsupportive workers will inevitably feel worried and stressed.
If we want to achieve our goals, we need to simultaneously help others achieve their goals. Otherwise, why would others care to help us at all?
It is just like helping our parents at home. When we actively help out with the chores or look after the younger siblings, our parents will be delighted and feel less stressed.
When we support our superiors, they will naturally feel grateful and repay in kind. When we are diligent, tolerant, and sincere in our work, we will also earn our superior’s respect and trust.
In essence, when we stop focusing on ourselves and help others, we will earn others’ regard and assistance to grow in our own careers.
Shibusawa himself spent his life putting this philosophy into practise. Whenever he could, he always extended his full support and assistance to others in need, regardless of their social status or identity. Despite becoming a businessman—a profession that was denigrated at the time—Shibusawa earned nationwide respect for his selfless contributions to Japan’s economy.
If we, too, can put this philosophy into practice, we will find it much easier to achieve success.