One day, Confucius’s horse ran away and trampled a neighbor’s rice field. The victimized farmer was infuriated and retained the vandalizing horse. Upon hearing of this misfortune, Confucius immediately instructed Tzy Gon, one of his best students, to negotiate with the farmer, compensate him for the damage, and win the release of the animal. Tzy Gon arrived at this rural area, and after a few inquiries, this well-dressed student, in the polished language and manner of the upper-class, apologized to this illiterate farmer, and tried to settle the matter as two gentlemen would.
However, after a brief conversation, this farmer was baffled by the visitor’s fine talk and hurriedly retreated home, hiding behind a tightly bolted door. Standing in the front yard, the student courteously explained his intention. Understanding none of the elegant words, the farmer, puzzled and irritated, stubbornly refused to receive him again. After a whole day of fruitless effort, the student, exhausted and frustrated, went back and reported his failure.
“You two are from totally different levels,” Confucius beamed a profound smile and calmly remarked. “Your attempt to reason with the farmer is like serving expensive and delicious dishes to a cow or playing beautifully composed music to a chicken. They couldn’t appreciate or understand it at all.”
Next morning, Confucius dispatched his horseman to handle the problem. After a brief dialogue, the farmer happily accepted the terms and returned the horse.
Different people have different abilities. Only a wise person can manage these differences appropriately. Because of their different backgrounds, the literate student’s refined language wasn’t understood by the uneducated farmer. Even if the student had used a coarse dialect, which might have been taken as a mockery, the farmer wouldn’t have felt comfortable communicating with him.
Then why didn’t Confucius send his horseman in the first place? Because he understood that his well-bred student, in his arrogance, would have felt offended if he, an educated and capable gentleman, was not sent. Confucius also saw that, after the student failed his mission, the horseman’s success would be valued all the more by the other students. The wise man perceived that his students and servants would profit equally from the experience.