Words of advice

BSP17

子曰:「法語之言,能無從乎?改之為貴!巽與之言,能無說乎?繹之為貴!說而不繹,從而不改,吾末如之何也已矣!」
Confucius said: “We are always ready to accept words of advice. But they only have any value if we act on them. We are always delighted to hear words of praise. But they only have any value if we understand their true purpose. People who are delighted but don’t understand and people who accept words of advice without acting on them – I have absolutely no idea what to do with them!”

Advice is probably not quite a muscular enough word to convey the full meaning of the term 法語 (fǎyǔ), which literally means something like “language that accords with the rites”, but I prefer it to alternatives such as “admonishment”, “admonition”, “correction” and even “exemplary sayings”.

Whatever the most appropriate term is, I don’t think it obscures Confucius’s frustration with those who nod their heads in agreement to some pearl of wisdom only to completely ignore it afterwards or who allow a spot of flattery to go to their heads.

The problem is that it is generally much easier to politely agree with what someone has to say even if you have no intention of following it rather than to disagree with them face-to-face. You may be acting insincere, but at least you are avoiding an awkward conversation or even a confrontation.

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