Take Blame, Give Glory
When you do a good deed, do you like to get praised for it? Or keep it a secret? Or give the credit to others?
Over the summer, I participated in an online educational workshop. The workshop had around 80 participants, and we were split into seven groups (teams) of 10–12 people. Each group had a teacher (leader) with several students (participants). We spent around two thirds of the time learning as a big group and one third of the time discussing in our small groups.
A couple of times in the big class, I noticed students from other groups had fans blowing wind directly onto their face, so their hair was flowing with the wind.
According to Chinese Medicine, it is bad for our health if we blow wind onto our body when still. If we are moving around, then it’s not a problem. At first, I was hesitant about telling them because I didn’t want to sound like a naggy parent, but I ultimately decided to message them in a humble and caring way, not in a judgmental or naggy way. They were appreciative.
Later, I told my teacher about this, and he told me that although what I did was good, I could have done better. He asked me if I can guess how (Can you guess?).
I couldn’t figure it out. He told me, “Instead of sending those caring messages yourself, you could have told their team leader. Then the team leader can remind that person as well as the whole group. This way, you give the glory to the team leader rather than taking it for yourself. You also earn the respect of that leader.”
At that time, I was pretty surprised to hear such an answer. I didn’t even think about getting “glory” for simply telling someone to not blow wind onto their face. My teacher then helped me see things from a bigger, more serious perspective. He told me a story about Yanzi (晏子).
Yanzi lived around 2500 years ago, during the same time as Confucius. He was a minister in the State of Qi, serving under Duke Jing of Qi. The Duke recruited people from all over the country to build a great pavilion for his recreational purposes. By winter, construction was still going on, and the people were cold and hungry. They all complained about how unsympathetic the Duke was, and they asked Yanzi to help relieve their hardship.
Yanzi returned to the Duke’s palace. The Duke, happy for his return, organized a banquet to greet him. Although Yanzi planned to tell the Duke about the worker’s grievances, he did not want to do so directly. They ate, drank wine, and chatted happily. Then he said to the Duke, “If your highness is willing to give me a small reward, could I sing a song?”
The Duke agreed. Yanzi then started passionately singing a sad song: “The people sing: cold water soaks my clothes, making me so cold. Oh how helpless I am. Those in the imperial palace are living an extravagant life, while us common folk are withering. I can barely survive, what to do?” At the end of the song, Yanzi was weeping and sighing.
Seeing this, the Duke got up, walked over, and said, “Why are you so sad? Is it because of the pavilion project? I will order for them to stop working right away.”
Hearing this, Yanzi got up and thanked the Duke graciously. The next day, he bid farewell to the Duke. After that, he rushed to the construction site. When he arrived, he did not say “OK everyone, I told the Duke, we can all go home now.” That would have been taking all the glory for himself. Instead, he took out a whip and started whipping the workers, saying, “You people already have your own shelter. The Duke asked you all to work together to build a pavilion for him, and you’re still not finished. What good are you? Get to work!”
All the workers were shocked and thought Yanzi had gone mad. Yanzi then left the site to go home since he knew that news was on the way from the Duke. Soon after, a messenger from the Duke arrived at the site to tell everyone that the Duke had ordered for the construction to stop, so everyone can return home. As a result, everyone cheered and was extremely grateful towards the Duke.
I reflected on two big morals from Yanzi’s story:
- Be tactful, not blunt, when telling others their faults
- Take blame and give glory
1: Tactful Admonishment Via Blaming Yourself
When Yanzi returned to the palace, he didn’t bluntly say to the Duke, “The people are upset at you. You need to order for the construction to stop.” I am a very blunt person, so I probably would have said something like that. But that creates opposition between me and the other person. It is also arrogant, as if I have the right to be telling my superior what he should do.
Yanzi’s method was to sing a song after drinking some wine, and through the song lyrics express the people’s suffering. Then he cried and wept for the people to elicit sympathy from the Duke. This makes it seem like the problem is on himself for being too emotional, and the Duke can be a hero by helping him and the people relieve their suffering. The Duke is then happy to help, and in doing so, correct his mistake of being ignorant and unsympathetic before.
2: Take Blame and Give Glory
Most people hate to take blame and prefer glory. But Yanzi took blame that he didn’t “deserve” and gave glory away that he “deserved.” Such a secret could not be held forever. Eventually, people realized what Yanzi did, and as a result, everyone respected Yanzi even more, and his story has been passed down for 2500 years to this day!
If he had given the Duke his “deserved” blame and taken his “deserved” glory, he would only have gotten small, short-term benefit. Therefore, wise people think about the long-term and benefiting the greater good, not short-term self-benefit.
Tactful Admonishment Via Blaming Yourself
As a teacher, I’ve had to teach many online classes due to the pandemic. My school requires students to turn on their video cameras in class, but many students don’t, or they turn on the camera, but the camera angle is facing the ceiling, so I cannot see their face.
Perhaps they just woke up and their hair looks messy, or they want to do other things on the computer rather than pay attention in class, or they are just too shy to show their face. Regardless, it is frustrating for the teacher when we call on a student, their video is off, and they don’t respond.
Like most teachers, I’ve tried the method of telling the students multiple times to please turn on their cameras because it is the school rules. It works the first couple of times, but it creates opposition. I feel bad doing it, and the students are resentful. In the future, they just don’t listen at all.
Recently, I tried a more tactful method. I talked to students after class one-on-one in a private room, and I asked them why they didn’t show their face in class. Many students said they are shy. I then said, “I’m sorry, but I lack confidence, so when I cannot see my students nodding or looking at me, I feel very nervous, like I am a bad teacher, like I am so boring that students don’t even want to look at me. So could you please turn your camera on and look at me during class to help me feel more confident?”
I also addressed their concern and said, “I know you are shy, but it is okay. Most students are shy. But we are here to learn, we are not here to look at other students. Most of the time, students are too busy listening to the teacher and taking notes rather than looking at you. So no one is staring at you except me, and I am only looking at you for my confidence, I am not judging your looks.”
After this, the student would typically turn their camera on and adjust the angle so that I could see their face, and they had no resentment.
To give another quick example, I remember listening to a lecture once, and suddenly there was a big sound outside. Everyone started looking at the door window instead of at the speaker. The speaker said, “Everyone, please look at me. Otherwise, you’ll hurt this small, sensitive heart of mine.”
After my summer workshop, I spent quite some time to create a summary document of all the things I learned. I sent it to my team leader to check, and she said it looked good. I was about to send the notes to my classmates and say, “Hey, I summarized some notes, maybe they can help you review too.”
But then I remembered Yanzi, so I changed my message to, “Hey, I summarized some notes, and our team leader approved them. Maybe they can help you review.” This way, I gave some of the glory away to my team leader. I also set an example of asking the team leader to check things before sharing them with others.
To give another example, when I go out with my friends, I will ask my mom if there is anything from the garden I could give them. In the past, I would tell my friends that I wanted to give them some garden veggies (which are a hundred times for flavorful than grocer store veggies).
Now, I will say my mom planted these and wanted to give them to you. This way, they feel gratitude towards my mom (whom they are less familiar with) rather than me (who they are already close with). It is a much better allocation of gratitude.
In the future, I will be on the lookout for more opportunities to take blame and give glory. This would have sounded strange if you told me this a month ago, but now I understand it is the wise thing to do.
How can you tactfully ask someone to change by taking blame? How you give more glory to others?
Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on September 4, 2022.