Translations of Selected Excerpts from Yuan's Proverbs (The Seventh)
Mistakes happen, but it's never too late to mend them
Even sages make mistakes, let alone everyday people who are not sages. How can we demand that everything be done perfectly? If someone makes a mistake, no one would blame him except for his parents or brothers, and no one would put forward their admonitions except for his close friends. In general, people would only express their concern behind the person's back with their criticism and mockery.
A noble man with high virtue is always afraid that he is the one who has made the mistake, and quietly considers people's criticism of him. He will thank them if he hears criticism from them and will mend his faults quickly. A petty person with low virtue, on the other hand, will try to excuse himself with arguments, even at the price of cutting off friendships or resorting to a lawsuit.
There is an example in the Analects of Confucius in which the faults of a man are compared with eclipses. Eclipses happen temporarily and are visible to all, but people will still look at the moon or the sun as they normally do after the eclipse passes. In this metaphor it is pointed out that every person can make mistakes, but if he can mend them in time, he will still be respected by others as before. Confucius has said: "A mistake becomes a fault when one refuses to mend it." That is to say, if one refuses to mend himself after doing something wrong, he is really making a mistake. If we look at those people of great achievements in the past and contemporary times, we will find that most of them have the virtue of being glad to have their errors pointed out by others and will mend themselves once they know that they have been wrong. On the contrary, those who try to cover up their mistakes and refuse to mend them mostly end up with failures.