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《Lessons for Elementary Schools (1)》 __ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Lessons for Elementary Schools (1)

Choosing an Inaccurate Answer

Once, a student of Confucius named Yan Hui passed by a cotton cloth shop and heard an argument between a shopper and the shop-keeper. The sale was of eight yards of cloth with the price of three dollars per yard. The shop-keeper handed the cut to the shopper and asked him to pay 24 dollars for it. But the latter argued that three times eight is 23 dollars instead, and accused the shop-keeper for irregularity, charging him 1 dollar too much. The two men each stood his ground. They got angry as the dispute continued.

Yan Hui approached the shopper and corrected his calculation, saying: “The shop-keeper is correct in asking you to pay 24 dollars, because three times eight is twenty-four. You should pay this right amount and stop accusing an honest man.”

The shopper became furious. He turned to Yan Hui and said: “Who gives you the right to speak? Around here, only Confucius the Great Master has the correct answer in calculations. We should ask him to settle this matter instead of you, a small passerby.”

Yan Hui was hurt, and he defended his dignity by saying: “You may not know Confucius is my teacher. He surely knows the correct answer to everything.

Let’s go to ask him. But, what would you do if he says you are wrong?”

“I will give you my head if he should judge me wrong! On the other hand, what would you do if he says your calculation is incorrect?”

“Simple,” Yan Hui replied, “I will take off my hat and bow to you three times to apologize.”

The two men went to see Confucius, and explained their dispute. They asked him for a fair judgment.

Yan Hui was shocked in disbelief when he heard his teacher said: “The correct answer for 3x8 is 23. Yan Hui, you are wrong in this dispute and you should apologize to this man with absolute humility.”

Yan Hui did as he was told. But, he was annoyed and confused. He thought, why would my teacher humiliate me like this, siding with this incorrect man for no reason? He contained himself for the rest of the day, feeling dejected.

The next morning, he approached his teacher and asked: “Please tell me, Sir, is three times eight 24 or 23?”

In response, Confucius asked: “Which is more valuable and important, the head of a man or the correct answer in a calculation?”

“Of course the head of a man!” replied Yan Hui.

“There you are,” Confucius smiled broadly; “you are indeed my understanding student.”

Years later, a stranger asked Yan Hui what he had learned from Confucius the Great Teacher.

“Accepting an inaccurate answer in calculation to save a man’s life!” he answered.

He then elaborated on the wisdom of putting down one’s insistence on being correct. There is more than one reason in doing so. The most prominent reason being to know not to insist on one’s correct answer, but rather, to know what is important and compassionate in life.

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