About a month ago, my grandmother got injured. She lives in China by herself, and she asked my parents and I to come back. My mother and I rushed back first, and my father will come later; this way we take turns staying by my grandma's side. Fortunately, she is much better now. But over the past month, I've had quite a funny and awkward problem.
Basically, my grandmother always wants to feed me. She buys lots of stuff for me to eat, and not all of it is healthy. My mother and I have quite high standards for health; we avoid processed foods with artificial ingredients in them, and we prefer to eat fresh, home-made food. My grandma buys lots of processed snack foods and frozen foods that have many preservatives and artificial ingredients and often prepares them for me to eat.
She says things like, "You're young! Your digestion is strong! You can't eat the same stuff as us. You'll go hungry. Here, eat more. Eat this stuff I bought for you. Eat them as snacks between meals."
Since my mother cooks, she was actually offended at first because she thought grandma was saying her cooking isn't good enough for me. I told grandma, "Actually, I've never gone hungry here. I'm always full. And I prefer to eat three square meals a day and to eat my mom's cooking. We consulted with my doctor before about what we should eat, and my mom cooks that food, so it's very healthy for me."
But my grandma continued to buy stuff for me and tell me to eat them. My mom was worried because when she ate those foods, her stomach didn't feel good, and she was worried that these foods aren't good for my health. I told my mom, "Well, I've said to grandma so many times that I am not hungry and I prefer to eat your food. I don't want to hurt grandma's feelings. You didn’t feel good after eating those foods, so grandma wouldn't tell you to eat them. But I had no problems, so I can't keep defying her. Maybe if my stomach felt bad too, then I would have a good reason to urge grandma to not give me those foods."
Shortly after I said that, I happened to grow a slight rash on my face. I don't know if it was the food or because I was very busy and slept very little for a few days. But when my mom saw the rash, she said, "I knew it! We need to tell grandma to stop giving you those foods!"
I said, "OK mom, sure, but let's wait until we're a bit more calm. If our mind is agitated, we might say something wrong and accidentally hurt her feelings."
Later, my mom told my grandma, "Look at your grandson's face! He's got a rash. This happened before. I know what to do. He needs to eat the clear bland diet*."
(*The clear bland diet is a term in Chinese medicine, and it basically refers to eating bland, easy-to-digest foods.)
My grandma said, "Oh no! Your face! OK you eat your mom's food."
Later, I was chatting to my mentor about this whole situation, and I asked him if there's any better way to handle this problem. Before reading on, I encourage you to think about how you might handle this situation. After all, you are here because you want to improve your wisdom, right? If you think about how you might handle this problem, then compare it to what my mentor said, it will leave a deeper impression on you, which can help you internalize these teachings.
Alright, here's what my mentor said:
"There's a phrase that goes 'Grandma is afraid you're hungry.' This isn't just a problem with your grandma. All grandma's love their grandchildren dearly and always want to feed them. They're never afraid that you're too full, just afraid that you might be the slightest hungry. I've had to communicate with my own mother on my daughter's behalf to not feed her so much. It is not an easy subject to communicate. If you speak too strongly, you'll hurt grandma's feelings. But you can't not speak up either. You just have to keep lightly pushing.
I don't think it's a good idea to wait until you have a health problem before speaking up. Otherwise, your grandma will feel very guilty for harming you. You can pretend to have a small discomfort and use that to urge your grandma. This prevents a big problem from arising in the future."
As usual, I really admire my mentor's wisdom. He thought broader than me. It didn't even occur to me that I could pretend to have a stomachache because I don't like to lie. But my mentor's advice is a wise exception to the rule of not lying.
There's an important teaching from the book Liao Fan's Four Lessons that goes:
"Do not just consider the present action, but also consider its side effects. Do not just consider immediate effects, but also consider the long-term effects. Do not just consider the effects on one person, but also consider the effects on the greater whole. An action that helps people now but has negative side effects in the future might seem like goodness but actually is not. An action that doesn't seem good now but has positive side effects in the future might not seem like goodness but actually is."
We shouldn't lie because it's immoral to hurt others. But in this case, a small lie actually helps my grandma from the risk of greater hurt in the future. It also saves my mother from further worry and saves me from eating those unhealthy foods. As long as our intention is to help others, and the result indeed helps them, then our "lie" is an exception to the rule.
Anyway, I am very happy at my grandma's place. She is always showering me with love, and I do my best to serve her, whether it's cooking, chores, chatting, shopping, or just spending time together. I also learned a great lesson from this "Grandma is afraid you're hungry" situation, and I thought it'd be an interesting and useful story to share.
Weekly Wisdom #264