From Independence to Interdependence

Alex Chen
4 min readJun 10, 2018


“In the Ming dynasty, there once was a prime minister named Wen Yi Liu, who was a just and lawful man. When he grew old, he retired to his hometown, where he was loved and respected by all the people. Once, a drunken village went to his home and proceeded to insult him. Mr. Liu was not angered by his words, but instead told his servants, ‘This man is drunk. Let’s not give him a hard time.’ With this, he closed the door and ignored the onslaught of insults.

A year later, the same man committed a grave crime and was sent to jail with the death sentence. Upon hearing this, Mr. Liu said with great remorse, ‘If I had taken him to the authorities for punishment that day, when he came to insult me, perhaps this would not have happened. A little discipline then, could have prevented the great harm done now, and might have saved him from certain death. At that time, I was only thinking of being kind, and unknowingly nurtured a daring and outrageous character. Since nothing came from his deed of insulting a prime minister, he grew bold and went on committing the crimes which later brought him the death penalty.’”

Source: Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons

We live in an interdependent world, and to be effective in this world, we need two things: independence and wise kindness.

So far in this blog, we have focused on independence. This included

· Letting go of vain desires to reduce unnecessary pain or stress

· Pursuing your passion to gain true fulfillment

· The important characteristics of humility, sincerity, diligence, and self-esteem

Notice that all these things focus on yourself, and these are all things within your control. We need to be independent because we should not depend on others to solve our problems, thereby being a burden on them. Besides, others cannot solve our most important problems (or opportunities), such as finding fulfillment or improving our character. Independence is the prerequisite to being able to help others. The problem is, most of us never got educated on independence, and before we know it, we are thrown into the complex problems of other people.

Building independence is a life-long journey. We will be challenged every day to practice humility, to pursue our passions, and to help others. But once you’ve at least become effective enough at independence, then you should start cultivating wise kindness. Wise kindness is truly helping others, not guessing at what we think will help others. As you can guess by the term, wise kindness has two components: kindness and wisdom.

By being a human being, kindness comes natural to you. In his interview with Lewis Howes, Jay Shetty talked about how humans are born with the desire to help others. We can see this in children, as shown by the two images below.

Girl wipes tears from person on TV


Boy tries to lift statue of falling rabbit


The problem is, popular media and modern-day society normalizes the idea of selfishness. Everyone wants to be “right” and to “win”. We need to be aware of the bad examples that we are exposed to and take action to either stop ingesting that content or to apply a filter to it.

The good news is, your affinity towards kindness will never leave you. In his TedTalk, Harvard Professor Michael Norton talks about several studies he did across the world, where he gave money to people and told them to spend it either on themselves or on other people. He found that people gain happiness when they spend money on others, whereas their happiness remain unchanged when they spent money on themselves. Kindness brings you fulfillment; it’s that simple.

The challenge with wise kindness is wisdom: few are ever taught how to properly help others. In my blog post on humility, I talked about ignorance, and how ignorance often results in us unintentionally harming others. The story above of Wen Yi Liu is an example of unwise kindness that resulted in harm. From this example, we can see how complex and difficult helping others can be. Here are some other examples to consider:

  1. If we have a friend who is about to do something immoral, how should we stop them? Should we even stop them?
  2. We all know the importance of forgiveness, but how and when should we forgive?
  3. We know it’s important to keep an open-mind and be tolerant of others, but how and when should we disagree with others and assert our ideas?

The fact that we do not know the answer reflects our ignorance about morality and the proper ways to help others. We simply are not educated on these things in school, and we are often miseducated by popular culture. Hence, we end up guessing at what we should do, which often causes harm.

Liao-Fan wanted to teach his son about morality, so he wrote his book, Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons. Below is the Goodness-Harm quadrant I created from reading his book.

In the next series of blog posts, we will go into detail about the goodness-harm quadrant.



Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.