[FOUNTAIN]Sometimes silence is the best policyAs the bride stepped onto the carriage on her way to the groom’s house, she told the coachman, “Treat the borrowed horses gently. They might get hurt.”
As she got off the carriage, she instructed a maid to immediately put out the furnace, as she was afraid of a fire. As she entered the house, she told a servant, “Get this mortar out of the way. It is inconvenient to move around it.”
There was nothing unreasonable about the bride’s orders, but people did not like them because her remarks were not suited for a bride who had just arrived at the groom’s house. The anecdote comes from the ancient Chinese Kingdom of Wei. The lesson of the story is that even the best-intended remarks can make you an object of ridicule if they do not suit your social status and role. Even an ordinary man has to watch his tongue carefully, to say nothing of a public figure.
Confucian scholar Lee Hwang had always been careful about his conduct and speech, even after he resigned from public office, in order to avoid criticism. He told his grandson, who was studying at the national academy Sunggyungwan, “If anyone talks ill of me, never defend me or argue with him. Bite your tongue and keep your mouth sealed. Don’t respond or compromise. Be prudent and do your best to keep your guard up.”
A similar lesson can be found in the Talmud. A rabbi held a feast for his students and served delicate dishes made of the tongues of cows and sheep. One was made with hard tongues while the other had soft tongues. The students jostled with one another to eat the soft ones. The rabbi said, “The same goes for people too. People with hard tongues will make people upset or start a quarrel. You should all try to keep your tongues soft at all times.”
Recently, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was given a very hard time for his very hard tongue. He said, “You must understand the environment in Pakistan. The easiest way for Pakistani women to make money is to get raped, so they’re lining up to be raped.” Anyone with even an ounce of intelligence, much less a president of a country, would know not make such outrageous remarks.
There must be some Koreans who feel uneasy as they witness the international criticism of Mr. Musharraf. The prime minister, ministers, assembly members and the so-called elites of Korea say nothing but insults, excuses and curses. There is an English phrase they should remember: “Think before you speak.” It means that one should avoid making harsh, emotional statements. There is also an old saying that you have dignity when you remain quiet, but even that little dignity will vanish if you wag your tongue.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.