Stories from Ancient China: Gratefully Accepting Suggestions and Criticism

The King of Wei once developed an inappropriate plan, but all of his ministers agreed with the plan. Zisi, a disciple of Confucius, saw this and said, "I see that in the State of Wei, the king is not like a king and the ministers are not like ministers either."

Gongqiu Yizi asked, "What makes you say this?"

Zisi replied, "If a king thinks that he's perfect, then no one dares to voice their opinions. Even if the king does the right thing without listening to other peoples' opinions, it still is the same as his having rejected others' opinions. Not to mention that currently the ministers all echo a wrong opinion and encourage this bad mentality. Instead of judging whether something is right or wrong, the king enjoys being praised by others. He is being irrational. Instead of judging whether the decision is reasonable his ministers simply flatter the king with excessive compliments. The king is irrational and so are his ministers. If they rule the country like this, the people will not be satisfied. If this situation persists, the country will no longer be stable."

Zisi said to the King of Wei, "Your country is deteriorating." The King asked, "Why is this so?" Zisi said, "Everything happens for a reason. If a king thinks that he's perfect, then no ministers will dare to correct his mistakes. If the ministers and officials think that they're perfect, then no ordinary citizens will dare to correct their ministers. Both the king and his officials think that they're virtuous and their servants also say that the officials are virtuous. If praising the king means they will be rewarded, and pointing out his mistakes is a crime, then how can this lead to any good results?"

Not only kings and officials need to know this principle, we also need to know this principle when dealing with others. We should avoid thinking that we are perfect. We should listen to and consider others' viewpoints. This can help prevent us from suffering losses and help us accomplish more. There is a saying, "The ocean is big because it accepts the water from rivers and streams." Everyone's opinion is like water from rivers and streams. When a person thinks he's perfect, it's the same as cutting himself off from the water from rivers and streams. If this is the case, no matter how big the ocean is, it will dry up very soon.

In fact, thinking of oneself as being perfect originates because one is selfish and self-centred. While we are trying to correct ourselves from the Chinese Communist Party's notion of never considering different viewpoints, we should also remember that one should be grateful when others point out our shortcomings. These are traditional values that our ancestors have passed down to us.

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