Divorced from reality


When Yuan Xian was made an official, he was offered a salary of nine hundred measures of grain but declined it. Confucius said: “Please don’t! Surely you can give it to your neighbors and the people in your village.”

This is another example of Confucius’s pragmatism. Instead of being impressed by Yuan Si’s refusal to accept the generous salary that comes with his new position, he rebukes his disciple for going too far in his attempt to demonstrate that he is untainted by worldly desires.

By zealously pursuing his desire for a “pure” and “righteous” lifestyle, Yuan Si is divorcing himself from the realities faced by the people he is meant to serve and thus is unfit to take the position. A balance between the needs of the individual and the society they live in is required. As a result, there are times when you have to compromise.

Yuan Si appears to have ignored Confucius’s advice. According to the historian Sima Qian, he spent his final days as a hermit in bare one-roomed hut. Contentedly, I might add, despite or because of his meager diet and harsh lifestyle. To each his own, I suppose.

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