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Two Students, Same Question, Different Answers

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

One time while Confucius was with his students, a student named Zi Lu asked, "Teacher, should I immediately put into practice what I have heard?" Confucius replied, "You have your father and elder brothers to consult first, why would you be so hasty to act?"

Another student named Ran Qiu then asked Confucius the same question, "Teacher, should I immediately put into practice what I have heard?" Confucius replied, "Yes, immediately put into practice what you have heard."

A third student, Gong Xi Hua, was perplexed after watching this exchange. He then asked Confucius, "Zi Lu asked you if he should immediately put into practice what he learned, and you told him to first consult his father and elder brothers. Ran Qiu asked you the same question and you told him yes. Why?"

Confucius replied, "Ran Qiu tends to draw back, thus I urged him forward. Zi Lu tends to rush forward, hence I drew him back."

Story Source: The Analects of Confucius, Xian Jin Chapter


Lesson 1: Audience awareness

Most of us speak because we feel like speaking, but sages like Confucius speak only what's beneficial to others. Their audience awareness score is 100%, while us normal people are far from 100%. If we could all be more considerate in our speech, imagine how much happier and harmonious we would all be!

This past week, my mother was busy counting some seeds when I asked her a question, and she said "Wait, I'm busy". I didn't even observe if the listener is able to listen. Another time, my mother said her stomach isn't feeling well, and then later in the day I asked if she wanted some black peppercorns in the soup I was cooking. She said, "My stomach is not feeling well, I just want something plain." If I had paused to think before I spoke, I would've already known the answer.

Lesson 2: There's no one-size-fit all solution.

Solutions need to be tailored for your specific situation. Just because something worked for others doesn't mean it's suitable for you, and just because it's suitable for you doesn't mean it'll work for others. An easy-to-understand example is health: different people's body situations require different foods, exercises, and sleep amounts. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

To give another example, in my experience as a teacher, if an irresponsible student has thick skin, I can scold him and then he will do his work; nice encouragement wouldn't help. But if an irresponsible student also has low self-esteem, then I need to encourage her and build her confidence; scolding would make things worse.


Through his actions, Confucius taught us to be considerate in our speech and to give advice tailored to that specific person's situation.


Weekly Wisdom #157

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