"To exhort people to change for the better" refers especially to exhorting those of an older generation or in a higher position, for instance, a child exhorting his parents or a minister exhorting the king to change. One exhorts them to change, that is, to correct their bad habits, thoughts, and conduct. This verse describes the proper manner for dealing with the faults and offenses of one's parents. This is a difficult situation to handle in modern society, because people put too much emphasis on individual development, freedom, and equality. Today's children are exceedingly independent and are not so willing to obey their parents. In ancient China, there was a common idea that one's parents are faultless. The ancient Hebrews and Romans also believed that their kings and fathers deserved the highest respect. Before the 1950's, American children still addressed their parents with the utmost respect, always answering, "Yes, sir." But all of these customs have gone with the wind. Is this good or bad? This is quite a controversy among educational experts, who cannot seem to come to a consensus. Let us set it aside for now, and take a look at how traditional Chinese children treated their parents.
When children see that their parents are at fault, should they try to cover for their parents, or should they try to give their parents some advice? Or should they explode at their parents and demand justice? This is actually a very complicated and delicate question. In general, we should definitely exhort them to not repeat the mistake, and to change for the better. True filial piety is not just making our parents happy in the short term, but protecting them from a bad reputation. What if our parents get angry at us when we urge them to change? In principle, we have the right to calmly continue to advise them. However, in order to handle such matters appropriately, we need to look carefully at the conditions. If our parents' mistakes or faults are minor ones, we should continue to exhort them to change, not giving up even if they get so mad that they scold or hit us. If our parents' faults are so serious that they might bring harm to other people, the family, or the country, and they refuse to listen to our advice, what should we do? The traditional Chinese solution would be to withdraw and dwell in sadness. However, the best solution would be to keep performing virtuous deeds to make up for our parents' bad deeds, and to dedicate the merit to our parents in hopes that they will wake up and reform.
In the last years of the Ming dynasty, the Manchurians occupied most of China. Zheng Chenggong's father, a general who owned a great deal of land and had a vast army of soldiers, decided to surrender to the Manchurians in order to save his own life and to gain prosperity. Again and again, Zheng Chenggong pleaded with his father not to surrender, as it was both a disloyal and a dishonorable action, but his father brushed him off as young and inexperienced. His mother, an upright and virtuous woman, disagreed with her husband's disloyal action and committed suicide in order to teach her son that he should be loyal to the country rather than follow his father in name of a filial son. Consequently, Zheng Chenggong fled from his father's camp with a group of loyal soldiers, and continued to fight against the Manchurians. Although his father was slain by the Manchurians and the Ming Dynasty perished in the end, Zheng Chenggong's loyal actions and his merit in developing Taiwan are very important events in Chinese history and in the minds of all the Chinese. By his actions, Zheng Chenggong saved his father from being despised and slandered by later generations. Don't you agree, then, that his loyalty to the country actually was a form of filiality to his parents? When we remonstrate with our parents, if we are not tactful, not only will we harm ourselves, but our parents will lose the opportunity to reform. We should not remonstrate with our parents in the same manner that we remonstrate with our friends and juniors. In admonishing our juniors, we may be either stern or gentle. In remonstrating with friends, we should speak to them seriously, because they are used to joking around with us and may not take us seriously otherwise. Yet we must also choose our words carefully, so that they find our advice easy to accept. If they ignore our advice, we should not argue with them, or else they might get angry and harm someone. A wise person will not risk his life for a useless affair.
How then should we remonstrate with our parents. First of all, we should never use a harsh tone of voice. It is said that parents and children should not request each other to uphold righteousness, for that would break the natural affection between them. Therefore, we should use gentle expressions and a soft tone of voice, and let our parents know that we respect them and hold them in high regard. Our parents will then be comforted and willing to accept our advice. Feeling obliged to fulfill our expectations, they will feel shame and try their best to reform. In exhorting our parents to correct their faults, we should be gentle and persistent, like a piece of soft, sticky, and sweet candy, which is impossible to refuse.
Chang-Ren was known as Filial Son Wang in Manchuria before he left home. How did he earn this name? His father was an opium addict, and Filial Son Wang used all his wages from his hard work to provide his father with opium. His father would always doze off after smoking opium, but no matter how long his father slept, he would faithfully wait by the bedside until his father woke up before he went off to rest. One day his father woke up and felt very ashamed. He decided to quit smoking opium, because he didn't want to see his son working so hard during the day and then attending upon him like that after work.
In the Book of Songs, there's a song called the Soft South-wind describing a widow with seven children who wished to marry again. Her children did not hate her at all, but instead blamed themselves for not fulfilling their duties in comforting their mother. We should learn these kinds of filial thoughts and the gentle ways of advising parents that the ancients used.