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Four Pieces of Candy

In the 1930s, there was a great educator named Xingzhi Tao (陶行知), who was the principal of a middle school. One day, he saw a student about to throw a rock at another student. Mr. Tao immediately told that student to stop. The student was shocked and embarrassed that he was caught by the principal. Mr. Tao told the young boy to see him in the principal's office at 3:00PM. Then he went to investigate the situation to make sure he got the facts right before deciding on a punishment.

At 2:50PM, the boy was already waiting outside the principal's office. His mind was full of thoughts about so many things: the rude classmate that he wanted to throw a rock at, the guilt for his wrong behavior, the fear of the principal's punishment, the embarrassment of being laughed at by his classmates, and the worry about his parents finding out.

The principal was pleased to see that the boy arrived early and called him in. He then gave him a piece of candy and said, "You are very trustworthy. Not only were you not late, but you are actually a little early! Here's a piece of candy for you."

The boy was quite surprised. The principal then said, "When I told you to not throw the rock, you immediately stopped and listened to me. That shows you are very respectful towards elders. Here's another piece of candy for you."

The boy thought he was going to get scolded, yet the principal was actually praising him! The principal continued, "I also investigated the situation and found out that you were throwing a rock at a student who was bullying girls. This shows you are a kind person with a sense of justice. Here's another piece of candy for you."

By this point, the boy was very moved by the principal's kind encouragement, and he said, "I'm sorry. Even if my classmate was bullying girls, I shouldn't throw a rock at him."

The principal was pleased and replied, "It is rare for a person to be able to admit their own mistakes, so I'll have to reward you with one more piece of candy. Alright, that's enough for today's meeting. You can go back."

In the future, this boy's behavior improved significantly, and he was inspired to become a middle school teacher thanks to Mr. Tao.


I heard from motivational speaker Dr. Alan Zimmerman that one of the most common complaints in the workplace is,

"You can do 100 things right and not hear a single word of praise or appreciation. But you do one thing wrong, and management is all over you."

Similarly, I imagine one of the most common complaints in all relationships is,

"I do so many things right, but you never notice, praise, or encourage me. I do one thing wrong and you criticize me right away."

"Praising others' goodness is a good act in itself. When others hear this, they will be inspired. Speaking of people's sins is a sin in itself. When resentment accumulates, disaster will eventually come."

Indeed, we all like people who say good things about us, and we resent people who speak bad things about us, especially behind our backs. If we want to accumulate good relationships and avoid bad ones, then we ought to look for everyone's good points and praise them, just like how Mr. Tao looked for the good points of that young boy. If Mr. Tao had instead scolded him, the boy's future might be very different.

The Gottman Institute found that happy couples have at least a 5:1 positive to negative interaction ratio. That means for every negative interaction they have, such as criticisms or conflict, they have at least 5 positive interactions, such as praise, encouragement, and acts of kindness. Excellent marriages have a 20:1 ratio. The takeaway? We need to praise people more and not scold them with anger or resentment.

But this does not mean we ignore their bad deeds and pretend like we don't see them. Mr. Tao did not ignore the young boy's bad behavior. We still need to communicate with them about their bad behavior, but we do it in a calm and caring way, without anger or blame.

For example, if the other person did not wash the dishes well, we should not get angry and say, "What's wrong with you? You can't even wash the dishes properly?" This kind of criticism kills relationships. The other person might think, "I am so tired today, and I still did the dishes, and the first thing you do is criticize me for one dish that was not fully clean? Why do you always look for my mistakes instead of appreciating my efforts?"

Instead, we can say, "Thank you for doing the dishes, especially when you look so tired already. Wow this dish is so clean! Oh this one still has a spot on it. Here, you should rest, I'll clean that one."

If the person often does not clean the dishes properly, we could say, "Thank you for always doing the dishes. I am lucky to have you. I noticed that some of the dishes are not fully clean, and I am concerned that maybe you are doing things with a very rushed attitude. With dishes, the consequences are small. But with bigger things, the consequences would be big, so I am telling you this to help you avoid mistakes in the future."

From that above example, we can see the person is coming from a place of care and respect, not from a place of blame and anger. Naturally, the receiver of the message would be more appreciative and less defensive.


Good relationships are key to our happiness and mental health. Relationship conflicts are also a major source of suffering. A simple and free solution is simply to praise the other person more! If they truly made a mistake or had a bad behavior, then we should communicate with them in a calm, caring, and respectful manner, and not scold them with anger or annoyance.


Weekly Wisdom #228


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