Just as jade has a natural tendency to break along elegant lines, Confucius observed that human beings have a natural instinct to behave decently toward one another. A kind gesture, a passing smile, a desire to help others, all spontaneously arise out of a basic human goodness or tendency to be decent. According to Confucius, this tendency, li, was the source of all proper and decent human behavior. Cultivating a profound respect for this human goodness, he taught, is at the very heart of leading a worthy life. Just as jade cutters respect the li of the stone, cultivating li in society is central to promoting integrity and human dignity, requiring commitment and discipline. By cultivating li, human decency is never taken for granted but is acknowledged, respected, and preserved throughout all human activity — especially at work. Otherwise, when li is ignored, men and women can find themselves following pointless ritual, obeying the letter but not the spirit of accounting rules, remaining loyal out of fear, and avoiding rather than shouldering responsibility. .%nbsp;.

There are countless simple examples of how li in its utter humanness pervades our lives: giving directions to a disoriented tourist, returning a lost wallet, offering a seat to an elderly person, holding the elevator door for a colleague. Rather than being some grand philosophical notion from ancient China, li actually is our humanity at its most basic level — an instinct that guides us to be helpful, honorable, and gracious toward one another.

Michael Carroll, Awake At Work