Wang Shouren was a renowned philosopher and educator who lived during the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644).
Even though Shun endured wretched treatment, he responded with goodness.
A father and son once sued each other and asked Wang Shouren to judge their case. After Wang had a few words with them, the father and son embraced each other and wept, and then returned home together.
Someone asked Wang: “What did you say that led them each to enlighten to their own error and repent so quickly?”
Referring to Emperor Shun and his father, Gusou, Wang replied: “I told them that Shun was the most disrespectful son in the world in observing filial piety, and Gusou was the kindest and most loving father.”
Of course, this is anything but the truth. Emperor Shun is regarded as the ancestor of China’s moral culture. He exemplified filial piety to the highest standard. By the time he was 20 years old, his filial piety was known all across the land.
Shun’s mother passed away young, and his stepmother was devious and cruel, while her son, Xiang, was arrogant and bad. The stepmother often spoke ill of Shun in front of Gusou.
Many times the three schemed and tried to think of a way to kill Shun. On one occasion, they asked Shun to repair the rice silo, and then they set the silo on fire. Another time they asked Shun to dig a well, and they dumped rocks and dirt into the well while he was digging.
With protection from heaven, Shun miraculously escaped from disaster every time.
Even though Shun endured wretched treatment, he responded with goodness. He treated his parents with the utmost respect and obedience just the same, without a trace of resentment or negligence, and he maintained good relations with Xiang, treating him with brotherly love and kindness.
Looking For One’s Own Shortcomings
Then why did Wang Shouren say the reverse about Shun and Gusou?
He explained: “Shun always thought of himself as behaving poorly in observing filial piety; therefore, he was able to display filial piety. Gusou always considered himself to be the kindest father, so he was not kind.
“Gusou always thought: ‘I’ve raised Shun since he was small. Why does he not know to please me now?’ Gusou did not know he was being deceived by his second wife. He only saw himself as kind, which made him even less able to be kind.
“In contrast, Shun was always thinking: ‘My father used to love me so much when I was small, but now he no longer loves me; it is because I have not done my best to observe filial piety.’
“Every day Shun considered in what ways he failed to do his utmost to display filial piety. Thus he became ever more able to observe this virtue.
“In the end, Gusou realized his fault and felt remorse for the way he treated Shun. Shun became recognized as the most dutiful son of all time in observing filial piety, and Gusou also became a loving father.”
The same principle applies to the way we treat others and manage our affairs.
When we encounter conflicts, rather than looking for fault in others, we may be reminded of the example of Shun, who always searched within to find his own shortcomings and where he made mistakes.
If we can conduct ourselves in this manner, then we will be able to resolve any conflict, no matter how big.
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