My recent problem-question had to do with help. How much help is one to give, given the shape of any given life. Given, too, the many proverbs of the sort: offer a hand, they'll take your arm. Of the sort too, that to descend to the bank requires skill not to slip in, that the one being helped may unawares push one in as they climb over one's back - it is the natural impulse to rise up. They are not to be faulted if suddenly there is a step, right in front of them.
I think of the ancient principle, that one is not to be rigid, that even in wisdom, one can be duped. Today, I have in mind the image of an escape artist, a sort of contortionist, which is a banal but visual presentation of the idea. There is a passage in Mencius, or Mengzi, where he is criticised by a student for accepting money in some places from some princes, and refusing it in others. "Mencius said, 'I did right in all the cases. When I was in Song, I was about to take a long journey. Travellers must be provided with what is necessary for their expenses. The prince's message was, 'A present against travelling-expenses." Why should I have declined the gift? ... But when I was in Qi, I had no occasion for money. To send a man a gift when he has no occasion for it, is to bribe him. How is it possible that a superior man should be taken with a bribe?'"
One is to learn to read each situation, and not to confound one's own self if - externally speaking - one's actions - appear - contradictory. I would add that one of the greatest fallacies in the modern West is expecting consistency in this respect. Perhaps this may be entered, in short hand, as yet another side-effect of scientism.
Indeed, Mencius explains the complexity of orchestrating the heart, that seat of wisdom - that θυμός - with an illustration. He says that it is difficult to be put into words, that it cannot be obtained by a seizure of righteousness. One must constantly practice righteousness, but not strive for it directly. The heart-mind is not to forget its work, but is not to be assisted in it. To illustrate, Mencius speaks of a man of Song who 'helped' his corn grow - frustrated that it had grown no longer - by pulling it up. On hearing this, his son runs to the corn, to find it withered, completely. Mencius observes that the way most people 'help' corn grow is not only of no benefit, but is destructive. To always be seen doing the right thing may be the wrong thing.
Brush. Background: Middle Liddell.