Liệt Tử 列子 (LT) was very poor and routinely had to endure thirst and hunger.
Someone reported to the king about LT, saying that LT was a superior person and yet destitute. If others heard about him, they would think that the king did not recognize talented and virtuous subjects.
The king immediately ordered three carts of food to be sent to LT.
LT came out of the house, respectfully bowed to the emissary and declined the offer.
As he came back in, his wife was very upset and resentful, saying, “I heard that the family of the talented people are usually well taken care off. Yet, your family is very destitute and the king graciously offered to help and yet you refused. How can I explain this to our starving children?”
LT laughed and told his wife, “Dearest, the king only knew of me because somebody spoke well of me to him and the king thus sent us things. I declined his offer because he doesn’t really know me. Think about it, if in the future I am bad mouthed to the king, what would he do to us? Moreover, if we accept these gifts and when he gets in trouble and we are not willing to sacrifice our lives to help is to be ungrateful. On the other hand, to be willing to die to help a bad ruler, what kind of virtuous behavior is that?”
Later, the king did get in trouble and was killed.
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We should all learn and emulate LT’s virtue and integrity. It’s not easy to watch your loved go hungry and needy in order not to be indebted to a bad person.
It’s not easy to be virtuous because one must make a lot of sacrifices.