Friendship is based on more than affection; a sense of duty should also exist between friends. A friendship based solely on affection will be strong only for a while; the good feelings will not last long. Not only is this true of friendships, it also applies to the relationship between kings and officials of old and between managers and workers of modern society. Even between husband and wife, there must be a sense of duty to make the relationship long-lasting and harmonious. There is a saying:
The relationship between superior people is as plain as water.
The relationship between petty people is as sweet as honey.
Who could eat honey day after day and not get tired of it? Water is plain and flavorless, yet we cannot go without it for a single day. All of the above relationships are based on duty, and "duty" is defined as what is appropriate. What is the most appropriate way to act? It is to urge one another toward goodness and correct one another's faults. If we merely love and protect our friends but fail to exhort them to change their faults, we will have been lacking in integrity. Even worse, due to our leniency our friends may make one mistake after another until they are totally ruined. Who is then at fault?
Once there was a mother who adored and spoiled her son. When he was little, he would sometimes fight or steal, but she would defend him, saying, "He's still young and doesn't understand anything. Anyhow, he hasn't committed any serious wrongdoing." She was always lenient with him. The older he grew, the more he stole and the craftier he became. Eventually the mother had no way to discipline him. She could only let him do as he pleased; she even helped cover up for him. Finally the son committed a major crime and was sentenced to death. Before his execution, he requested his mother to feed him her breast milk. When his request was granted, he fiercely bit off his mother's nipple. She nearly fainted from the pain. The criminal also wept and said to his mother, "If only you could have felt the pain earlier and disciplined me when I was little, would I have ended up like this? Your love has ruined me!"
Conversely, if we speak when we are supposed to, not only do we maintain our integrity, we cause others to develop their morality, resulting in blessings for both sides. If we are able to exhort and remonstrate with others, we have both talent and virtue. If we can accept others' remonstrance, we are both virtuous and tolerant.
Emperor Guangwu, whose reign was in the middle of the Han Dynasty, was an example of virtue and tolerance. Once the emperor went out hunting and was so engrossed in the pleasure of the hunt that he did not notice the time. When his carriage reached the east gate of the city, it was already midnight. The guard refused to open the gate. The following morning, the guard bluntly admonished the emperor for two faults: first, knowing the rule and breaking it; second, hunting without restraint.
Emperor Guangwu, being a wise and great ruler, did not get angry, but openly acknowledged his mistakes and presented the guard with a hundred bolts of cloth to reward him for his dutifulness.
Earlier we mentioned the greatest and most talented emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Taizong, and his minister Weizheng, who was known for his frankness and courage to criticize. Emperor Taizong appreciated Weizheng's faithful adherence to goodness, and Weizheng admired Emperor Taizong's magnanimous character. Therefore, whenever the emperor's words or behavior were the slightest bit inappropriate, Weizheng would speak up right away and the emperor would humbly accept his remonstrances.
Emperor Taizong had an empress, Chang Sun, who was also a worthy helper to him. One time the emperor obtained a precious young falcon. He adored the bird and held it in his hands and played with it, trying to teach it some tricks. Right then, word came that Weizheng was requesting to see him. The emperor thought, "What a bother! He always comes at the most inconvenient time! Once the old man sees the bird, he'll go on and on about how trifling with amusements is a waste of energy." Thereupon the emperor hid the young falcon inside his sleeve, thinking to quickly send Weizheng off on some pretext. He didn't realize that Weizheng's sharp eyes had noticed his movement, and that the official deliberately brought up large and small matters one after another. It seemed that he would never finish. Taizong was getting anxious, but he could not refuse to listen. When Weizheng finally took his leave, Taizong let out a sigh of relief. However, the little falcon had already died of suffocation. Although Taizong was regretful, he dared not blame Weizheng because he wanted so badly to be a worthy ruler who could accept criticism. In the end, he had to give up the hobby of raising young birds.
Another time when Princess Chang Le, Emperor Taizong's most beloved daughter of Empress Chang Sun, was to get married. The emperor ordered especially elaborate gifts and ceremonies. In fact, her dowry surpassed that of Princess Yong Le, who was not the Empress' own daughter. As usual, Weizheng had something to say: "Although your affections differ, they are of equal rank as princesses and you should not ignore the rules of etiquette." Taizong had no choice but to listen. When he returned to the palace and told the empress, to his surprise she was not disappointed, but rather praised the minister, saying, "In the past I did not understand why Your Majesty respected Weizheng so highly, but after hearing his exhortation, I realize that Weizheng is truly worthy of being an important official of the country."
Another time, Taizong had had it with Weizheng's merciless admonishments. He left the court and returned to his palace quarters in fury, saying, "I've got to take that old country bumpkin's life,and that's that!" Empress Chang Sun asked in haste, "Who are you talking about?" The emperor, with anger and indignance, replied,
"Who else? That stubborn old fellow Weizheng! He always insultsme to my face in court. Where has my dignity as the Emperor gone?"
The empress silently withdrew, changed into formal ceremonial dress, and stood respectfully on the courtyard steps. The emperor was totally puzzled.
The empress said, "I've heard that if the emperor is noble and wise, his ministers will naturally be forthright. Today Weizheng was so frank all because Your Majesty is noble and wise. How could I not offer congratulations?" Once he heard the praise, Taizong laughed and understood. With her wisdom, the empress not only saved face for her husband, but more importantly, saved old Weizheng's life, allowing him to continue to exhort the emperor.
The reason Taizong was such an eminent emperor was that he had a worthy empress who offered gentle advice, and he could listen to his worthy minister's straightforward exhortations. This wise emperor, virtuous empress, and worthy minister shall all be remembered in history as complementing one another. Is this not proof of the verse, "If we urge one another toward goodness, then we will all develop our virtue"?