何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)

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Speaking Truth to Power

已有 1622 次阅读 2020-4-21 02:39 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察

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Speaking Truth to Power

These four English words/idiom and their meaning can be roughly translated, at least operationally, into the Chinese idiom (also four words) as “忠言逆耳. In fact, it is a general truth that no one likes to hear advice/criticism contrary to his/her beliefs. While the English idiom nowadays usually are used with political advisers, the Chinese idiom has more general everyday application.

Let me recount two personal incidents in my younger days with friends who happen to hold position of power in organizations which I was a part of. In the first case, I gave unsolicited advice on some policy matter to the head of the organization which I thought was unwise. His reply was that I should see a psychiatrist. But we remained friends. Year later when he asked me as to why I became less active in the organization even though still supportive generally. I told him about his “psychiatrist” reply which he hotly denies he ever said that (I believe that he honestly forgot he said that). In the second incident which was similar, the head simply ignored the advice. But years later when he was no longer the head, he did acknowledge my wise counsel and we are still friends.

In any case, what I learned from these two matters is that direct contrary advice rarely accomplish what you desire. If you wish to change someone’s mind, the best way is to let him believe that the change actually came from his own thinking. Supply him/her with some facts gently to help him/her along. The last thing you want to say is that s/he is wrong. This is true even if you were asked for an opinion (here again I am giving unsolicited advice which may not be what you want to hear. And only at my age I feel I can afford to ignore my own advice even though I do it believing that it is for your benefit)




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