If you want to maintain good relations with people, not only do you have to be sincere, you also have to be tactful. What does tact consist of? We can discuss it in terms of the tone of voice and the attitude of speaking. The first verse says that no matter what you are saying, you should speak with a dignified manner and at a leisurely pace. That is, your manner when speaking should be earnest and genial. Another explanation is that you should use correct emphasis and pronounce clearly. The next verse says that you should not rush through your sentences, which corresponds to being earnest and genial. Nor should you mumble or garble your words, which corresponds to speaking with correct emphasis and pronouncing clearly.
From the way a person speaks, one can immediately determine the way he was brought up. From his tone of voice, one can detect whether he is in a good mood or a bad one, and whether he is tense or relaxed. Those skilled in physiognomy can also read a person's disposition and fate from hearing his voice.
During the Spring and Autumn Period in China, Gong Ziwen, the prime minister of the State of Chu, was renowned for his virtue. When his brother, General Ziliang, had his son Yuejiao, Minister Ziwen went to visit the newborn baby. Before entering the room, he heard the baby cry, raised his brows, and after seeing the baby, said to General Ziliang, "You must not raise this boy. He has the looks of a bear or tiger, and his voice sounds like a jackal's howl. He is cruel and vicious. If you raise him, he will bring disgrace to our Ruojiao clan. He has the wild, ambitious heart of a wolf. He's a man-eating wolf. How can you raise him?" When Ziliang did not agree with him, Ziwen became very worried. When he was old and near death, he summoned his kinsmen and told them, "If Yuejiao ever comes to power, you must quickly move away to avoid calamity." He couldn't help but weep as he said, "The ancestors of Ruojiao may not have any descendants left to worship them!" After Ziwen died, his son Douban inherited his position as minister. Later when Yuejiao inherited his father's position as general, he plotted with his subordinate, Baiying, to murder Douban and usurp the minister's position for himself, making Baiying the general.
Shortly afterwards Yuejiao became envious of Baiying's power, so he dispatched the Ruojiao clan's troops to ambush and kill him. Then he went on and attacked the King of Chu. The King of Chu wanted to reach a settlement and offered three of his princes as hostage, but Yuejiao did not agree, so he had no choice but to go to battle with the troops of Ruojiao. Although Yuejiao was bold and skilled in archery, when both of the arrows he shot at the King of Chu missed their target, his troops lost confidence. The King of Chu took advantage of their hesitation and urged his own troops on, saying, "When our ancestral king conquered the country, he obtained three divine arrows. Yuejiao stole two of them, but now he's lost them and we can counter-attack." In a burst of bravado, they annihilated the Ruojiao clan. It just so happened that one of Ziwen's grandsons had been away in the State of Qi on a diplomatic mission. On his way home he heard about the fighting, and not caring whether the victors were friendly or not, he returned home to report on his mission, then tied himself up and went to the head judge to receive his punishment. The King of Chu, thinking of Ziwen's merit in governing the State of Chu, said, "If a person as worthy as Ziwen had no descendants left, how could later generations be inspired to goodness?" Thereupon the King granted him amnesty and allowed him to retain his position. In that way, the Ruojiao clan was not completely wiped out.
At the end of the Western Han dynasty, Wang Mang usurped the throne and made himself King. Before he became a traitor, he had always put on a pretense of humility and refinement, and he fooled many people. Once, a street hawker was invited into palace to perform. Someone asked him, "What do you think of Wang Mang's physiognomy?" The hawker considered for awhile and then thought, "He has the eyes of a horned owl, the mouth of a tiger, and the voice of a jackal. Not only will he eat men, he will be murdered in the end!" As it turned out, after Wang Mang killed the Han Emperor and usurped the throne, he was eventually defeated by Emperor Wu, who established what became the Eastern Han Dynasty.
These two examples show that a person's voice is a true reflection of his disposition. However, one's inborn disposition may be altered by education and training. One's voice will naturally change along with one's disposition, and one's fate will also be different! Therefore, we must not overlook the method of changing fate through training children in their manner of speech and tone of voice and think that it is not important.
When U.S. President George Washington was a youth, one of the rules he copied from "Rules of Civility in Conversation Amongst Men" was, "Don't listen to other people's affairs out of curiosity; don't approach people who are engaged in private conversation." In other words, don't mind other people's business. Don't be an eavesdropper, or you might stir up more gossip and even put your life in danger. You shouldn't listen to gossip, much less utter it. The "Rules of Civility in Conversation Amongst Men" also says, "Don't gossip about others behind their backs, because that's unfair." If you don't know the truth of the matter and you speak recklessly, not only are you being unfair to those involved, you are also degrading yourself.
In his travels, Confucius once came upon a bronze statue in front of a temple. The statue's mouth had been gagged three times around with rope, and on its back were carved these words:
"This is a man from ancient times who was cautious in speech." Confucius praised this sight endlessly, and from that incident came the expression, "to be gagged thrice," meaning to be scrupulous in speech. Wise people guard their words like gold, which is a very sensible way to act.
Editor's Note: The text of this issue should be switched with last issue's. The editor apologizes for the mistake.