Kong Mie was a nephew of Confucius, and Mi Zijian was a student of Confucius. Both of them became county magistrates.
One day, Confucius went to the county where Kong Mie was the magistrate. It was Spring, a busy season for farming. However, there were some deserted fields with downcast farmers standing nearby. Confucius asked them, "Why are you not farming?" The farmers replied, " We were ordered not to farm as a punishment because we were not able to pay enough taxes the past six months." Confucius became unhappy when he heard this.
During a meeting with Kong Mie, Confucius asked him, "Since you were appointed county magistrate, what are your losses and gains?" Kong Mie said, "I have three losses but no gains. There are so many assignments from higher officials that I am busy and anxious all day long. How can I find time to study? Even if I read occasionally, I cannot enlighten. This is the first loss. My salary is very low and I cannot spare anything for relatives. Our relationships have thus become worse and worse; this is the second loss. Due to a busy work schedule, I have not been unable to follow the etiquette of virtuous behaviour, including visiting patients. People therefore do not understand me. This is the third loss."
Confucius said, "I have heard that a good official, out of kind-heartedness, focuses on virtue and is hesitant about doling out punishment. Using policy as a guide and reinforcing that policy with punishment will encourage people to avoid punishment, but they may not realise what is shameful. Using virtue as a guide and reinforcing what is virtuous by example and with etiquette, people will know what is good and what is shameful, which will make punishment unnecessary. With the right guidance, an official will gain people's understanding and support."
Confucius also went to Mi Zijian's county. People there were wealthy as well as honest. Their behaviour was virtuous and they followed proper etiquette. Confucius asked him, "Since you were appointed county magistrate, what are your losses and gains?" Mi Zijian said, "I have three gains with no losses. No matter what I do, even when I am very busy with work, I am able to follow the words of sages and men of virtue. By applying such principles in everyday life, I understand them more and more. This is the first gain. Although the salary is not high, I share what I can with relatives, so our relationship is more harmonious. This is the second gain. Although very busy with work, I still follow etiquette of virtuous behaviour, including visiting patients Therefore, people support me. This is the third gain."
As they were talking, they heard music and singing nearby. Confucius smiled, "Did you also use music to civilise people here? It seems the people are happy and have peaceful lives; how did you achieve this?" Mi Zijian replied, "You told us that a gentleman, upon receiving knowledge, should care about others. Since I learned the lesson of music from you, I decided to put it into practice. I treat the elderly the same as my own parents, and the young the same as my own children. I am trying to reduce taxes and help the poor. I also respect and search for people with virtue and wisdom. If people are better than I, I humbly ask them for advice." Confucius was very impressed: "Zijian is really a noble man: guiding people with virtue and maintaining social order with etiquette and music. By obeying the heavenly law, people will follow you and gods will help you. Although the place you are in charge of is not big, the way you are following is a great one! By taking such a righteous approach, you can even benefit a nation, let alone just a county!"
When in an undesirable situation, some people are attached to personal interest, while others are able to follow the truth and remain considerate of others. This comes from different realms of understanding about life. Such a difference will lead to different outcomes. With compassion, one can follow the heavenly law and gain people's trust. The path will be broader and broader and more promising.
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