“I will not open the door for a mind that is not already striving to understand, nor will I provide words to a tongue that is not already struggling to speak. If I hold up one corner of a problem, and the student cannot come back to me with the other three, I will not attempt to instruct him again.” Analects of Confucius 07.08
When I first read this aphorism it struck me as harsh and cold, but on a moment’s reflection, I reviewed a couple of times when I had put noticeable effort into trying to help a searcher for truth and correct action that utterly failed. I suffered and thought a lot about why those encounters failed.
Failing a search inspires a sage.
Natural reality is consistent and seemingly fair because of its consistency, and somehow we expect people or all sentient things to behave consistently, and thus to seem fair.
Of course, our relationship with natural reality is sometimes shaken, like when we expect the weather to behave as we expected and it doesn’t. But, if we are reasonable, we realize the problem wasn’t because of non-sentient reality’s considered and willful disobedience to our needs. It was our own fault for not acting more responsibly, for not taking responsibility for our own lack of forethought and thus taking actions that failed.
I had that terrible experience with a “student”. And several other similar experiences where my best of intentions to be helpful were received with contempt and nullification. Such is life with human beings.
Thus, I have slowly learned to be a bit more cautious with lifting the corner of a problem and looking under it for a resolution. But lifting the corner of reality for another person to see the problem and see it more clearly and then to become vilified and even hated is painful for me.
I disturbed their happiness, so they reacted by disturbing my happiness.
I have been encountering that problem with my thinking and writings about the Covid disaster in progress. People like to hope the disaster is over and I lift the corner on the obvious fact that everyone can catch the disease, and so far only one in a thousand has even had a survivable case. Five percent die of Covid, and thus only one in a thousand people have developed any antibodies by having a mild case. That seemingly obvious fact exposed creates disbelief and anger almost instantly when people realize that it is probably accurate. The catastrophe has probably just begun, and thus their current hope is a false hope.
Lifting the corner on a real problem will often generate hostility in the “student” and thus most of them will reject any further inquiry. Thinking can be dangerous to a person’s equanimity.
When I approached Confucius’s statement above and his rejection of students, in fact almost every student, I thought back on the idea brought up in a cooking book I read last year, Gastrophysics, where the author, Charles Spence, mentioned that people don’t remember anything about a meal they had in a fine restaurant, they only remember how they felt about the meals they had there. It is probably the same with all human encounters. People don’t remember the conversations with other people, they remember the feelings they had when in the conversation with that person.
Perhaps what I should learn from that reflection is to note carefully how people are feeling about the conversations we are having, and not pay too much attention to the logic and power of the rationality of the conversation. Thus:
Help people to feel in an optimistically pragmatic way about the problem being discussed.