Be Strict With Yourself, Tolerant Toward Others

October 21, 2009 Updated: October 21, 2009

(—Fan Chunren (1027–c.1101) was the second son of Fan Zhongyan, a notable litterateur in Chinese history and an important political figure in the Sung Dynasty (960–1279). He taught his sons to live according to high moral standards.

"The most dim-witted person can be very clear-headed when he examines other people’s faults, and a very intelligent person can become quite muddle-headed when he excuses his own mistakes. Therefore, if one can reprimand oneself the way one reproaches others and excuse others the way one forgives oneself, one can easily become a sage," he said.

Some people asked Fan for guidance in how to conduct oneself and relate to others well. He replied, “Only frugalness can foster the sense of honor and shame, and only forgiveness can bring about benevolence and virtue.”

Fan practiced self-cultivation. Each day after returning from the government office, he would change his clothes to something inexpensive. He was also never picky about what he ate. He kept this up regardless of the rank he had attained throughout his life.

In interpersonal dealings, ancient Chinese people educated their children to be strict with themselves but forgiving of others. Therefore, Fan counseled his children and students that the key to moral high ground is to “censure oneself the way one finds fault with others and forgive others the way one absolves oneself.”

In practice, this is not so easy. People tend to see the world as unsatisfactory and corrupt and to feel discontented and uncomfortable. Annoyed and aggravated, they start blaming and censuring others.

We often articulate many great principles to cover up our own problems. When we see the shortcomings of other people, we feel good about ourselves. This is no way to cultivate one’s moral conduct.
The first step in cultivating virtue is to start identifying our own deficiencies. Once we learn a principle, it is easy to apply it to others, but much more difficult to apply it to ourselves.

Merely talking about the principles won’t work unless we put them into action. Whenever conflicts or difficulties arise, we should first correct ourselves rather than criticize or blame others. Our moral capital will accrue if we can constantly examine ourselves and be tolerant of others’ faults. This, in turn, will enable us to influence others in a positive way.

The problems we see in others should serve as reminders for ourselves not to make similar mistakes. If we can truly forgive others in the same way we excuse ourselves, sainthood will be well within reach.