The Power of Polite
I read a Chinese philosopher, (maybe Master Kung Tse, maybe a modern Chinese novelist, I’m not sure) saying that when a wise man meets someone he wants to understand, he asks about the person’s work, family, and ethnic loyalties.
This is the cat equivalent of staring straight at another cat, looking down and blinking, then staring again for the exact same length of time. This is the dog equivalent of smelling one anothers genitals with wagging tails. This is the frog equivalent of – well, the frog social millieu is perhaps the subject of another blog entry and for another time.
Asking about a stranger’s work, family and ethnic loyalties is the social skill that comes just after being able to say hello. Political correctness be damned: I like to do it a lot. It is traditional, fresh, universal and commonplace all at once.
Success with people for me arises from friendliness and awareness of our common wealth, which in turn implies the willingness to put away childish things, things that intervene and obscure clear and friendly talk.
Two disciplines of Kung were chatting about his politics. One had noticed that whenever Kung arrives in a new country he is always well informed about the politics. How does he manage to learn so much about a new country, he asked his friend.
The answer is fascinating:
“The master learns about the politics of a country by being cordial, kind, courteous, temperate and deferential. The master has a way of learning which is quite different from other peoples, isn’t it?” (My rendering of Simon Ley’s translation of Analects, 1.10.)
Kung was a man who had certainly put away childish things. In his courteous friendliness and plain awareness of things as they are, he seems to me to have been a wiser statesman than perhaps any politician we have in the world today.