Being Truthful

By Qing Yun

PureInsight | October 27, 2008


How difficult is it to be truthful?

When I was young, I read the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I was doubtful about the moral of the story back then. Since everyone knew the truth and could clearly see the emperor wasn’t wearing any cloths, why could no one be honest?

As years went by, I slowly understood that being truthful is not that simple, and sometimes it takes courage.

[Editor’s Note: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a story by Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen published in 1837. It is about an emperor who is attached to fashion and hires two tailors to create for him the finest suit available. The tailors take advantage of the emperor’s vanity and tell him that the cloth that the suit is made from is invisible to inferior people. In actuality, the cloth does not exist at all. The emperor himself cannot see it, but pretends to see it for fear of appearing unfit to rule. All his ministers also pretend to admire the non-existent cloth. In the end, after being “dressed” by the tailors, the emperor goes on a procession through the capital city to display his new clothing, all the while having nothing on but his undergarments. Finally, a child calls out from the crowd that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and everyone realizes that the emperor has been swindled. But the emperor ignores the remark and carries on, stubbornly believing that those “inferior” people simply couldn’t see his beautiful clothes.]

Of course, it is not important to average people what an emperor wears. However, when we encounter important matters, wouldn’t we all prefer others to be truthful with us?

Liu Xiang from China’s West Han Dynasty told the following story in his book Shuo Yuan (a compilation of early Confucian proverbs). There was a family with a chimney cut too straight, and every time they lit a fire, it traveled right up the chimney throwing many sparks. Next to the chimney there was a pile of firewood. One guest suggested to the owner, “This is too dangerous. The chimney should have a slight curve and the firewood should be a little farther away.” Out of politeness, the owner thanked the guest for his advice but did not pay much attention to what he said. A few days later, the sparks fell onto the woodpile and caused a fire. Fortunately, the neighbors all rushed to help in time and prevented the house from being burned down. The next day, the owner of the house had a big banquet to thank all his neighbors for their help. He arranged the seating based on everyone’s effort. However, the guest who first advised him of the danger was not even invited.

If we were the owner of the house, would we listen to the guest’s good advice?

Some people are really muddleheaded. They not only fail to appreciate good advice but also become resentful and seek revenge against those who give it.

Not long ago, I read news about Cheng Si Ying, a ten year-old girl in fourth grade who gave some truth clarification material about the persecution of Falun Gong to her teacher. She hoped that her teacher could know the truth and would not follow in the evil party’s footsteps. But her teacher did not thank her for being truthful and instead called the police. The girl was locked up in a metal cage with handcuffs and shackles. The teacher also gave every student one yuan (about $0.15) as encouragement to report on someone in the future. Cheng’s parents were also later arrested, and Cheng herself was deprived of any opportunity to go to school.

From the teachers in school to the guards of national security, many people probably do not believe that the persecution of Falun Gong by the evil party is actually taking place in China. This kind-hearted girl told her teacher the truth, just as the child in the story told the emperor that he had been swindled by the tailors. Yet these same innocent words brought very different outcomes. The child’s words in the fairy tale awakened people and everyone started to discuss and condemn the lies. But little Cheng’s words brought her disaster. If the society goes on like this, who will dare to be truthful?

Just look at the path of our lives and the many causal occurrences we have; many of them may become a turning point and change our future. In reality, we really don’t know much about our future. If we refuse to face the truth throughout our daily lives, isn’t that very dangerous? If our society continues like this, it will be the saddest scene to watch!

Perhaps our surroundings make us numb and apathetic. Even when we know the truth, we are afraid to utter it. However, we are often the ones who decide how things should turn out.

Here is another story about being truthful. Once, there was a barber who was assigned to cut the emperor’s hair. When he found out that the emperor was actually bald, he was depressed because he could not tell anyone about it. One day, he could not stand holding in this secret anymore. So, he went to a forest and shouted to a big tree, “The emperor is bald! The emperor is bald!"

Later, that tree was cut down and made into a large drum. Whenever someone would beat the drum, people could hear it echo, “The emperor is bald! The emperor is bald!”

When we tell the truth even to just one person, Heaven can hear us. When all of us start to tell the truth, our efforts will add up bit by bit and bring hope to this world!

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