Reading Is Always Beneficial: Bringing a Long Pole through a Short Gate

Shi Shuwen

PureInsight | October 20, 2003

[] This story was selected from The Book of the Ridiculous written by Handan Chun. Handan Chun was from Yinchuan, Henan Province during the Three Kingdoms period (222 to 265 A.D.). As an erudite scholar, Handan Chun was highly respected and relied on by Cao Cao and his son. His book, The Book of the Ridiculous, is a collection of many jokes that are essentially satires of foolish acts, greed and ignorance of the high-level government administration. Here is an example:

During the Epoch of the Warring States, a man from the Lu State needed a long pole. He found a desirable long pole outside the capital city of the Lu State. He immediately faced a challenge when he tried to bring the pole into the capital city, as the gate of the capital city was not tall enough for the pole. Since he couldn't get through the gate while holding the pole vertically to the ground, he decided to try holding the pole horizontally. When this failed to work, the man stood there contemplating an alternative solution. An elderly man came along and offered him kind advice. The elderly man said, "Although I am not qualified to be called a wise man, I have seen a lot of things in my life. It is my humble opinion that you should cut the long pole in half to get through the city gate." Upon hearing the advice, the man immediately borrowed a saw to cut the long pole, and successfully brought the two short poles through the city gate.

Don't you find this man's act to be a foolish one? When he couldn't get through the city gate holding the long pole vertically or horizontally, he jumped the gun and decided to take the stranger's advice without exploring any further options. On the other hand, the story reflects a common situation where we are often trapped within the boundary of our old, conventional thinking and cannot find an alternative solution. If we can free ourselves from our existing notions, we might be able to arrive at a wiser solution in the face of a challenge.

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