During the Ming Dynasty (about 500 years ago) in ancient China, there was a high government official named Wen Zhen Xu (徐文貞). Xu was known for his humility and consideration. Specifically, he was able to admit his own faults (humility) and conceal the faults of others (consideration).
One year, Xu served as the Chief Examiner of his province, and he was in charge of making the exam papers and hosting the exam.
(For context, in ancient China, scholars had to pass different levels of imperial examinations in order to gain government positions, which were equated with wealth and prestige. You can think of it as if he were in charge of conducting a very important round of interviews for important government jobs.)
During that exam, there was a student who noticed a mistake in the exam. He was very nervous about pointing out the mistake because he might offend the examiner (Xu) and indirectly offend the Emperor who chose the examiner. But he took the courage to go up to Xu and tell him the mistake in the exam.
When Xu heard this, not only was he not defensive or critical, but he immediately checked the related book and verified the mistake to be true. Then he admitted his mistake, apologized, and said he learned an important lesson today. To be able to admit his mistakes publicly in such a high-ranking position requires great courage and humility, and the public admired him for that.
Xu’s Consideration for Others
When Xu retired and returned to his hometown, he hosted a big banquet and invited family, neighbors, and fellow villagers. There was a guest who saw that Xu had a golden cup, and he wanted to steal it.
This guest hid the golden cup in his hat. Xu happened to see him stealing the cup, but he didn’t call him out. Instead, he concealed that person’s wrongdoing because he felt that human sentiment is more important than material possessions.
When the meal was over, a servant who was cleaning up couldn’t find the golden cup. Xu saw this servant searching and told him to not worry about it because he already put the golden cup away. In reality, he didn’t want to embarrass the guest who stole the cup.
Unfortunately, that guest didn’t control himself and got drunk. When he was walking, he stumbled and fell down. When he fell down, his hat came off and the golden cup rolled out. When Xu saw this, he immediately turned around and pretended like he didn’t see the cup. He also told his servant to go put that cup back into the person’s hat. Everyone realized how kind and considerate Xu was to conceal this person’s wrongdoing rather than publicly shame him.
“If I get angry when hearing criticisms and happy when hearing praise, then bad people will come and good people will leave. If I am uneasy when hearing praise and happy when hearing criticisms, then good people will come.”
Xu did this when a student pointed out his mistake on that very important examination event.
The Guide to a Happy Life also said,
“Whatever I impose on others, first ask if I want to be treated that way. If not, then don’t do it to others.”
Everyone makes mistakes in life, and nobody likes to be publicly shamed. That’s why Xu concealed that guests’ fault rather than publicly shame him. He showed that valuing human sentiment is more important than material possessions.
We can all learn from Xu’s great role modeling of humility and consideration.