The importance of starting young

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Armando-J-Aguado

Armando J. Aguado

There is something uniquely advantageous about knowing several languages.

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Cognitively speaking, learning and speaking different languages are stimulating mental exercises which create new connections to help keep our minds sharp.

Socially, knowledge of multiple languages allows us to interact with more people and ultimately widen our personal networks. However, despite the relative ease of learning a new language until just before the teenage years, the same cannot be said as one gets older. Instead, this very same ability to learn as fluidly and easily as when one was young diminishes. This is not to say that learning a language is impossible once you hit the teenage and adult years, but it simply becomes much harder.

The same difficulty can be applied to forming ethical and socially responsible business leaders. Sometimes, schools are so caught up in ensuring that their graduates are technically competent that they forget the human aspect of business. Instead of advocating the values of socially responsible business leadership, students are reminded constantly how profit is king and how business is really just a “numbers” game. Noted American economist and Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences Milton Friedman espoused this philosophy when he said, “The view . . . that corporate officials and labor leaders have a ‘social responsibility’ . . . shows a fundamental misconception of the character and nature of a free economy . . . there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game . . .”

While we all acknowledge the importance of profit, this viewpoint symbolizes a dangerous trend down the path of moral indifference that have led to many high-level corporate scandals and shortcomings in recent years.

At home, the same phenomenon is seen when parents emphasize the importance and value of winning, and in the process neglect to teach the child what it means to fail forward. “Failing forward” involves learning from one’s mistakes and taking what would otherwise be a negative experience as an opportunity to become better.

Filipino-Chinese for example, tend to have their own family businesses; naturally, it would make sense to simply carry on with the family business after graduation.

However, I remember how a Filipino-Chinese friend of mine told me how his parents did not want him to work for the family business straight out of college. Rather, they wanted him to gain real-world experience first in companies where he would learn the hard way how to do things. This kind of experience is beneficial for young managers-to-be as it allows them to gain an entry-level perspective on what it is like to work your way up. This expectedly makes them appreciate more the family business once they finally take over.

Such is the importance of understanding the concepts of ethics, humility and thinking responsibly at an early age. When students are repeatedly educated and reminded on the essential balance between profit and morals, we set the stage for ethical decision making at the grassroots level. By the time these students assume high-level positions, they will be better equipped to make the difficult calls that are sometimes a toss-up between doing what is easy and what is right. Just like learning a new language, becoming an advocate for ethical practices is altogether so much harder when the formation only begins in adulthood. As the business educators, practitioners and leaders of today, the burden of making them into these advocates rests solely on us, and it is a responsibility we must all take seriously.

The author is a Lecturer with the Management and Organization Department under the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University Manila, where he teaches Human Behavior in the Organization. He may be reached at armando_aguado@dlsu.ph. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty, and its administrators.

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