Fortune Comes From Accepting Criticism
We often wish people “good luck”, as if luck were something outside our control. But is it really?
Interestingly, legendary American investor Ray Dalio expresses a similar sentiment. In his book, Principles, Dalio emphasizes that arrogance in his early years led to his downfall, while humility and radical open-mindedness led to his later fortune and success. He explains radical open-mindedness as “the ability to explore different points of view and different possibilities without letting your ego or blind spots get in your way. It requires you to replace your attachment to always being right with the joy of learning what’s true.”
Another role model of how humility brings fortune is Emperor Tang Taizong, who is considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. If Emperor Tang was wrongfully criticized, he still accepted the criticism with respect and said it was his fault. When others asked him why he didn’t correct the criticizer, he said,
“If I make others feel bad for trying to criticize me, then people would be scared to criticize me in the future.”
Emperor Tang wasn’t perfect; he still got upset at hearing criticism sometimes, but he always corrected himself. He had a great advisor named Wei Zheng, who was known for providing the Emperor with straightforward and constructive feedback. One time, Emperor Tang returned from a cabinet meeting and angrily told his wife, “Sooner or later I will kill that Wei Zheng! He always contradicts me and embarrasses me in front of everyone!”
Upon hearing this, the Empress said, “A subject is only willing to present his honest opinion when the Emperor is wise and open-minded. I would like to congratulate your majesty for having a cabinet member who is not afraid to contradict you, because it is proof of your open-mindedness!”
Emperor Tang immediately calmed down and thought of Wei Zheng’s integrity and moral character. He later said, “A lot of people think Wei Zheng is a direct and tactless man, but I think those are his very charms.”
When Wei Zheng passed away, Emperor Tang burst into tears at his funeral. He famously said,
“Put a slab of copper as a mirror before me, and I can straighten my robe. Put history as a mirror before me, and I can identify the alarming signs of rise and fall in a dynasty. Have a man as a mirror who reflects my flaws, and I can rectify my mistakes. I constantly keep these three mirrors to prevent me from making mistakes. Now that Wei Zheng has passed away, I have lost a mirror!”
Emperor Tang also urged the people around him to be humble and to seek others’ criticisms. He told his ministers,
“If you can’t accept criticism yourself, how can you criticize others?”
One time, Emperor Tang saw his son lazily lying under the shade of a tree. He walked up to his son and told him, “A tree often doesn’t grow perfectly straight, but a carpenter can turn it into a straight log strong enough to support a building. A monarch who grows up in a palace cannot know everything and will certainly make mistakes. Only by modestly listening to the advice of his ministers can he correct and straighten himself up and become a worthy emperor.”
Heeding his father’s advice and learning from his father’s example, the son later achieved even greater success as Emperor.
I was especially moved when I heard that Emperor Tang respectfully accepted wrongful criticism so that others would never fear to criticize him. I personally can accept logical criticism, but I often get upset or angry when others wrongfully criticize me. Emperor Tang’s role model inspired me to happily accept any and all criticisms.
Recently, I told a friend I don’t care if I get rich in the future, I wouldn’t want that much money anyway. For context, we were talking about how contentment is key to happiness and how greed leads to so many troubles. A few days later, she messaged me saying that I shouldn’t be so indifferent towards wealth and that if I get wealthy, I should view it as a good thing because I can use that wealth to help others.
At first, I was tempted to say, “Oh yeah I meant I wouldn’t be greedy to spend wealth on personal enjoyment. Of course I would use it to help others.” But then I remembered that explaining myself gives the impression that I’m not open to criticisms, which means bad luck in the future! Plus, the fact that she would even admonish me is something I ought to be grateful for. Hence I replied, “Wow thank you so much for advising me! You are totally right. If you ever notice me saying or doing anything wrong, please keep advising me!”
In my work, sometimes there are mistakes in the tests I make. Whenever students point them out to me, I thank them and praise them in front of the class. I can speak from experience that people like and feel comfortable around someone who is excited and appreciative when hearing criticism.
- Can I accept rightful criticisms?
- Can I accept wrongful criticisms?
- Can I accept wrongful criticisms happily?
Only when we can accept wrongful criticisms happily can good advisors and good fortune come.
Special thanks to Ray Dalio and Emperor Tang Taizong for their setting a great example!