All people have plenty of excellent characteristics. We as individuals need to learn from everyone, as well as find specific people who have specific qualities. In other words, we should take two different approaches. On one hand, we should find and learn from the good in everyone we come across. But on the other hand, we should make sure we spend time around certain specific people.
For instance, a person who wants to make his way in the business world should seek out good businessmen, observe them, study them, work with them, etc. He has to actually find those people. It’s not enough for him to just learn from his neighbor the teacher, his friend the chemist, his sister the shoe designer, and his roommate the wrestler. He needs people who are actual businessmen.
He should also avoid assuming that someone else is in fact a good businessman. For instance, when coming across someone who’s intelligent and industrious, he might be tempted to believe that that person is also the type to make it in business. He might think, “Bob’s a genius. And he’s active. He’s driven. I’m sure he’s going to make it in business. I should hang out with him.” In reality, plenty of people with Bob’s qualities aren’t suited for business.
And even some people who’ve “made it” in the business world aren’t good businessmen. For instance, an average businessman might launch his business by bribing the right person. A weatlhy businessman might be wealthy due mainly to the fact that he knows a few powerful, influential competent people.
When seeking out the right people to be around, we should make sure that they are in fact the right people.
A businessman ought to seek out active, successful businessmen. And a person who wants to develop his character should do the same with high caliber people. [Analects 4:1, 15:9]
But again, we should learn from everyone. Confucius learned the Confucian Way through the people. If he hadn’t learned from a variety of people, he wouldn’t have learned the Confucian Way. [Analects 19:22]
And in addition to actually being around people, we should read, watch, and listen to biographies of them. Confucius studied the lives of great people. He lived not just in the world of his time, but also in the world of ancient worthies. [Analects 7:5]