Nobody wants trouble. When confronted with a problem, you may be able to talk your way out of it if you keep this in mind -- that the people who initiate the conflict most likely don't want to be in that situation either. Find out the real cause of the disturbance and you may avoid serious trouble.
A hair-raising incident that illustrates my point occurred in the Northern Sung dynasty (China, 1127 A.D. to 1279 A.D.).
A government official named Con Yuon was assigned to a border city. After only three days as mayor, he surprisingly discovered that all of his soldiers and police were gone. They had been dispatched to handle a revolt in another corner of the province. Worse than that, the aborigines, who were fully armed with swords and spears, surrounded the city and were preparing to attack.
The mayor immediately had an urgent conference with his subordinates. They all suggested bolting the gates and sending letters to neighboring cites, asking for military assistance.
"If we are lucky enough, we can hold them at bay until the rescuers arrive," some of them estimated. There was no time to assemble and train local citizens to protect this city.
Attack, Defend, or Communicate
"We must send a delegate to find out their problem first," said the mayor. "Otherwise, regardless of the resolution, we will never know the cause of the uprising."
"What a lunatic!" his subordinates privately sneered. Out loud they said "How could we possibly approach those barbarians with their oiled swords and sharpened spears? And may we ask who will have the honor to meet with those ferocious rebels?" None of them wanted to receive this fatal assignment.
Without any hesitation, the mayor volunteered himself. Although his subordinates pleaded with the mayor not to go, their protest was merely a formality. They were only too happy to let the mayor put his own neck on the chopping block.
Accompanied by two aged servants, the mayor appeared at the city gates, which immediately caused a commotion. The armed natives had expected to be met by a few hundred well-armed soldiers. Instead, a solitary man rode out to meet them.
After brief amenities to the invaders, the rider said, "I am the new mayor of this city. I would like to discuss with your leader why you threaten the city. Please, guide me to your headquarters."
Surprised by this request and by the mayor's polite demeanor, the natives escorted him to their village. While on their way to the village, the mayor's two servants made excuses and snuck away, which meant that one of the barbarian warriors had to hold the horse's reins for him.
Tradition and Honor
When they arrived at the village, the barbarian chief came out to meet the mayor. The mayor got down off of his horse and said, "I am your superior. Traditionally, you must call on me first."
He then strode into a tent and sat on a bed, waiting. With astonishment, the barbarian leader went in to 'call' on the mayor. After formal amenities, the mayor asked the reason for their untimely 'hunting.' The natives vigorously complained about the corruption of the last mayor and told of many injustices that they had suffered. Due to over-taxation and other maltreatment, they didn't have sufficient food and cattle to endure the coming winter.
Dealing with the Cause
Mindfully listening to their protest, the mayor considered it for a moment and said "I do understand your outrage and sympathize with your suffering. My predecessor has done wrong to you all. I apologize for him. Being your new superior, I am responsible for you. You can send someone with me tomorrow to fetch cattle and supplies. For now, it is rather late for me to return to the city. I will stay here for the night."
The natives admired this mayor for his brazenness and deeply appreciated him for his thoughtfulness. The next morning, the mayor, with a company of natives, went back to the city. Observing their approach, his subordinates wrongfully believed that their superior was leading the rebels to assail the city.
After an exchange of words, they agreed to allow him to come in alone. In a few hours, the mayor collected a hundred tons of rice, vegetables, and cattle. He personally supervised the delivery. Receiving these goods, the natives were thankful for his kindness, and loudly swore their loyalty to him.
Fistfights or Communication and Compromise
People, as well as countries, are often in conflict. The clumsiest way to settle the matter is a fistfight between people or a war between nations. Physical confrontations are costly and ineffective, and generally solve nothing at all. Try to learn your opponent's viewpoint. Communicate and compromise until you can reach an acceptable outcome. After all, any fool can start a fight. To resolve a conflict without violence is an art, and a sign of wisdom.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
YMAA Publication Center. ©1997. www.ymaa.com
This article was excerpted from the book:
Wisdom's Way: 101 Tales of Chinese Wit
by Walton C. Lee.
Wisdom's Way is a collection of true stories from ancient China. These delightful tales offer both historical lessons and insight into human relationships, from the grand maneuvering of emperors to a pair of tradesmen arguing over an old coat. Test your wit in a hundred and one tales from Imperial China, and see if you can keep your head!
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About the Translator
Popular in China, these "101 Tales of Chinese Wit" have been translated and enhanced by Walton Lee. Mr. Lee, born in Taipei, Taiwan, is a graduate of San Francisco State University and an enthusiast of classical Chinese literature. Visit his website at http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/6426/
About the Editor
Feng, Mon-Lon (1574-1646 A.D.) was a low-level civil servant during the last years of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) A student of political intrigue, he compiled and edited many short stories. In 1626, selecting primarily from well-known historical events, he assembled a work of 28 volumes, with over 830 stories, in only two months. The stories in this book come from that collection.