Monday, March 22, 2010

A Lesson from Zhang Liang

We see it everyday: people making superficial judgments of strangers they have never met.We all do it. The moment we meet someone new, we begin to judge them. We judge
politicians, celebrities, and more importantly, simple strangers that we meet in our everyday lives. When I meet a new person, I try to keep in mind a legend that my father told me when I was little. It is about Zhang Liang, (262 BC – 189 BC), a strategist and statesman of the early Han Dynasty in China.

One day when Zhang traveled to Xiapi in the province of Jiangsu. It is there
where he is said to have met an old man while walking across the Yishui bridge. The man walked towards him and threw one of his shoes off the bridge and on to
the bank below.

"Hey you, little boy, go down and fetch the shoe for me!"

Zhang was not pleased. But despite the danger of falling into the cold water, he descended down the bank and picked up the shoe. When he returned, the old man lifted his foot and ordered Zhang to put the shoe on for him. The boy controlled his temper, kneeled and carefully helped the elderly man put on his shoe. The old man said nothing, did not show any sign of gratitude. Instead he walked away in laughter. After walking a distance, the old man returned to the bridge. He praised the young Zhang.

"This child can be taught!"

He asked Zhang to meet him at the bridge again at dawn five days later. The boy was
confused but he agreed. Five days later, Zhang rushed to the bridge at the stroke of dawn. The old man was alreadywaiting for him there.

"How can you be late for a meeting with an elderly man? Come back again five days later!"

Zhang Liang tried his best to be punctual the second time but the old man still arrived earlier than he did, and once again he was told by the old man to return again five days later. The third time, Zhang Liang went to the bridge at midnight and waited until the old man appeared. This time, the old man was impressed with Zhang Liang's fortitude and humility. He then presented Zhang with a book and he said to him:

"After reading this book, you will become the tutor of a ruler. In ten years' time the world will become chaotic, and you will use your knowledge from this book to bring peace and prosperity to the empire. Meet me again in thirteen years. I will be the yellow rock at the foot of Mount Gucheng in the town of Ji Pei."

The old man was none other than the legendary wise man, Huang Shigong, whose name
means Old Man of the Yellow Rock. The book was titled The Art of War by Taigong and was believed to be the Six Secret Teachings of Jiang Ziya . Others would call it the Three Strategies of Huang Shigong. Zhang Liang returned home and studied this book very hard until he had mastered its essence.

Ten years later, he went on to assist the emperor Liu Bang who would establish the Han dynasty and unite China. In legend, when Zhang Liang returned to the indicated site thirteen years later he did see a yellow rock there. He built a shrine to worship the rock which was buried with him after his death.

What I have taken away from this story is that it is important to be humble and respectful of others. Humility is an important leadership quality. It involves learning from others, something you cannot do if you are too busy judging them.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

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