Confucius said: “Let me take a stroll with any two people, and I can always be sure of learning something from them. I can take their good points and emulate them, and I can take their bad points and correct them in myself.” (1)
How ironic that the very devices that help us to connect with each other more easily in virtual spaces also have the effect of keeping us further apart when we are in physical proximity!
Why bother flying thousands of miles to an important conference to listen to what people in your industry have to say on the latest issues confronting it when you spend most of your time at the event with your head buried in the screen of your phone touting your presence there on social media or giving running commentaries on speeches that you’re barely listening to? Oh, and while I’m on the subject, why spend half an hour getting to know someone you’ve met at the event when you can hastily depart after a quick exchange of name cards with a rash promise that you’ll connect to them later by email?
You can indeed learn a lot from observing and talking with other people – some of it negative and some of it positive. You can also learn a lot by dispassionately observing your own behavior and figuring out which aspects of it you can improve on. Heaven forbid that you discover you spend just as much time hiding behind your phone as everybody else.
This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.