Shun was a legendary emperor of ancient China who ruled from 2233 BC to 2184 BC. His birth mother died when he was very young, and his father, elderly and blind, remarried soon after. Later, Shun’s stepmother gave birth to Shun’s half brother and half sister.
Shun’s step mother and half brother treated Shun horribly, always forcing him to do the hard work, blaming him for everything, and giving him the worst living conditions. On many occasions, they even tried to kill him. Since Shun’s father was blind and elderly, he was often ignorant of the bad treatment Shun received and believed everything the stepmother told him. Shun, however, never complained and always tried to be dutiful to his family. Thus, his father was ignorant of Shun’s goodness. When he was barely an adult, his stepmother kicked him out of the house. Shun wandered from town to town, and with his great compassion and natural leadership skills, he always left a positive impact.
For example, when Shun arrived at a fishing village, the fishermen often physically fought over the good fishing spots and left the rapid waters for the weaker elderly. Shun decided to join the fishermen and set a good example by yielding good fishing spots to others. When others plundered good fishing spots, he concealed their selfishness. But when others yielded, he praised them every where he went. Shun did this for a whole year, and by then, all the fishermen were yielding and considerate of others.
At the time, Emperor Yao, who was known for his virtue, benevolence, and intelligence, was becoming old. He felt his 9 sons lacked the good character and virtue to succeed him, for all they did was spend their days with wine and songs. Hence, Yao started a country-wide search for someone worthy to succeed him. Shortly after, he heard of the unbelievable tales of Shun. Yao decided to test Shun by giving him a district to govern, a house, money, and even two daughters of his to marry. After receiving these things, Shun lived humbly. He continued to work in the fields, and he even convinced the princesses, who were used to a lavish lifestyle, to live humbly and work along the people. Eventually, he even influenced Yao’s 9 sons into becoming contributing members of society.
Emperor Yao was very impressed with Shun, and thus he chose Shun as his successor.
Shun was clearly a remarkable person, and what makes him so remarkable are his effectiveness at independence and interdependence. Recall in The Deeper Meaning of Letting Go, I stated that we should give ourselves sincerity and passion. With sincerity and passion, we will live a life of fulfillment. We will also have the foundation to be independent so that we can interact effectively with others.
In interacting with others, we continue to give sincerity and passion. That is, we should not say or do anything half-heartedly, whether on purpose (lack of sincerity and passion) or by accident (lack of self-understanding). In addition to sincerity and passion, we should give others kindness and humility.
Shun was very sincere in everything he did. When he did his chores, he sincerely wanted to do a good job. When he concealed the faults of his stepmother and half brother, he did not feel sorry for himself, and held no grudges.
He was passionate about the servitude of others, and so every where he went, he found fulfillment in improving the social demeanor. His passion allowed him to be diligent and patient in the towns he visited so that he could make a large impact.
His kindness was boundless, for he always sought to benefit others. Kindness means wanting others to live happy and productive lives, and that’s what he did for everyone he met, whether it was common villagers or princes and princesses.
His humility moved everyone he met. Rather than looking at the bad points of others, which would have been extremely easy for him to do for his stepmother or the fishermen, he always focused on how he could be more virtuous. When he was given wealth and power, he did not become arrogant. He remained humble and worked along the common people. When Emperor Yao asked him to succeed him, Shun initially refused, proposing that someone more virtuous should be chosen instead. This act showed that he was extremely humble about his enormous and extraordinary achievements.
Regardless of the times we live in, we can all follow Shun’s example to
1. Be sincere and passionate in what we do
2. Be kind to others, helping lead happy and productive lives
3. Be humble, looking at how we can improve ourselves rather than how others can better