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Prestige Comes from Yielding

It seems that the two things people chase nowadays are wealth and prestige. Last week, we looked at how true wealth comes from contentment, featuring the story of the fisherman and the businessman. This week, let's look at prestige.

Image by Luku Muffin on Unsplash

Prestige basically means having the respect, even admiration, of others. After all, it's human nature to want to be liked by others. Many people think being famous or having lots of power is the same as having prestige, but if someone of high authority has bad character, would you respect them?

There's a Chinese proverb that says prestige comes from yielding (貴在知退). Logically speaking, everyone likes a humble person and someone who tries to showoff or exude arrogance. But rather than logically explaining too much, here is a story to illustrate this proverb.

In ancient China, the country of Zhao was second in power to the country of Qin. The Emperor of Zhao recently appointed a new minister named Lin Xiangru (蔺相如) to his personal council of advisors. General Lian Po (廉颇) was very unhappy with this decision because he felt Lin didn’t deserve the position. General Lian Po earned his position in the council by rising his life out on the battlefield, whereas Minister Lian simply studied books.

General Lian Po would often publicly show disrespect to Minister Lin, such as by having his horse carriage purposefully bump into Minister Lin’s horse carriage. Minister Lin always yielded to General Lian.

One time, Minister Lin’s servant asked, “Why are you always yielding to General Lian Po? Isn’t that cowardly?”

Minister Lin replied, “Today, the country of Qin is the most powerful. Why do they not invade our country? It’s because they know the country of Zhao has two powerful and wise people: General Lian Po and myself. If they knew that General Lian Po and I have conflict, then they wouldn’t hesitate to invade us.”

When General Lian Po heard about this, he felt extremely ashamed and said, “I act in the heat of the moment, but Lin is able to remain calm and think of the whole country’s citizens!” He then sincerely apologized to Lin, and the two became great friends.


The first and obvious lesson from the story is that we naturally respect and admire Minister Lin for being humble and yielding towards General Lian Po, hence Minister Lin's prestige is real, long-lasting prestige.

The second lesson is that those with a big heart naturally attract prestige compared to those with a small heart. Minister Lin had the whole country in his heart, hence he garnered the respect of the whole country.

The third lesson is that even though General Lian Po had power, his arrogance tarnished his reputation, but he redeemed himself after apologizing and changing his behavior.

The fourth lesson related to prestige is that we need to know our strengths and yield everything else. No one is good at everything. Minister Lin never compared himself to General Lian Po; he knew that he was a scholar who could give good advice to the Emperor; he never tried to improve his military expertise to compete with General Lian Po. A truly prestigious person focuses on their strengths to make the best contributions to society, while the average person tries to be a jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none.

My Experience

I am on very good terms with my school because I like to yield the good teaching time slots to other teachers, and I have the school's best intentions at heart. Most teachers want a normal 9 to 5 teaching schedule (this schedule got ruined during COVID-19 when most of our international students returned to Asia), but I told the school I am fine with teaching night class and I'm even fine to not have any classes and just do course development; I want the other teachers to be happy, especially since their situations are tougher than mine. I didn't try to get prestige, but it seems I naturally got a good reputation among the school staff.

I've also found that a sincere apology along with changed behavior can indeed redeem one's reputation. For example, two of my students had a rather public conflict in front of the class. After I guided them to be more humble, apologize to each other, and later even praise each other (changed behavior is key), both their reputations were redeemed and improved.

Concluding Thoughts

  1. Where in my life could I be more yielding?

  2. Where in my life could I have a bigger heart?


Weekly Wisdom #161

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