From The Analects fourth book we read the following:
“To live in the neighborhood of the Good is fine. If one does not choose to dwell among those who are Good, how will one obtain wisdom?”
The joy of reading Confucius is that because The Analects are such an ancient work, there have been hundreds and hundreds of scholars who have commented on the meanings of his teachings. The two most common interpretation of this line is the literal interpretation, that is to say, actually living with people that share similar backgrounds. The other metaphorical interpretation from Mencius, indicates it to be a general sphere of activity.
I find my own interpretation straddling both of these ideas.
The first thing that stands out to me is that to learn “wisdom,” we must surround ourselves with people that we can learn from. I’ve always understood wisdom as something a person learns through experience. We draw on the experience of our friends, families, mentors, heroes, and many others in the hope that we don’t make their mistakes, and emulate their successes. This is nothing new–we’ve done this since we were kids.
For me it’s this phrase, “to live in the neighborhood of the Good,” that really hits home. What is a neighborhood of the Good? If the idea is to learn wisdom from those that are “Good” then how do we build a neighborhood of the Good? It’s kind of impractical these days to get a group together and find a place in the wilderness to live together. I’m not even sure if it would be that effective. As nice as it would be to just retreat from the world and be apart, it’s just not really possible for an extended period of time. In all reality, a neighborhood of the good might not at all be a real and physical thing, but a close group of mentors and friends that we can trust to guide us.
When I was in grad school one of my professors talked about not just having a single mentor, but rather developing an entire“board of directors” for your life–that is to say, a group of mentors that you can learn from and seek wisdom. Each member of a board of directors has a different responsibility, and we can mirror that in our own lives. Maybe one mentor can help you with your career, while another can offer wisdom on raising your family. It’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people that believe in you. If all you hear is, “You’re going to fail,” or, “You can’t do it,” then odds are you are going to fail. But if you’re surrounded by people that believe in you all the time, then maybe, just maybe, the voices of those people will speak louder than all of those doubts and insecurities that always plague us.
So what can you do? Go out and start finding people that believe in you, people that are willing to help you grow. These people can be co-workers, bosses, managers, professors, pastors, bishops, and especially family members. Seek their counsel, and wisdom. Learn from them. Most importantly, remember that they’re right–you can do it. You are more than your doubts.