Gaining knowledge on various issues is a continuous part of human existence.
Learning helps us make sense of the world. In Hsun Tzu’s ‘Encouraging learning’ he
gives various metaphors on how education can mold human beings into virtuous
creatures. Education also determines the paths many of us follow in life, and if we want
to live fully, then we can never stop learning. Through his writing, Tzu was able to shape
an entire aspect of history. He gave different analogies describing how learning could
change perspectives and better the human race in general. A gentleman, according to
him, is anyone who seeks education for the betterment of self and uses it to do well. As
the gentleman says, “Learning never ceases” (Tzu 1).
There are different perspectives one may look at in becoming a gentleman, and
one of them is being a student and studying. The results we get out in life are mostly as
a result of our actions. The harder one works, the more successful they become. We
could look at the ‘A’ student, for instance, a well-driven individual who is focused and
devotes time and effort in not only learning but mastering the content he/she gains.
Then there’s the below-average student, someone who just chooses not to put any
effort into academics. “Achievement consists of never giving up” (Tzu 2). Their grades
could be termed as a direct reflection of their hard work. According to Tzu, the study is
of more value than thought (1). It continually refills your knowledge base, giving one
insight and purpose day after day. Education gives one a sense of right and wrong,
enabling people to live well with each other and shape their lives, it’s at all difficult to
distinguish someone with a good education from someone with none at all or someone
who doesn’t care for leaning. Gathering the correct content through study and
examination of self makes one’s “wisdom be clear and his conduct without fault” (Tzu
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1). Knowledge is like food for the mind, body and soul. It builds virtue and character and
separates us from every other person in the world.
Bad company corrupts good morals. That’s an old wise saying that most people
would term to be true. Friendship is a part of human existence since no one can do it
alone. The gentleman chooses well-bred men for friends and carefully chooses his
surroundings, according to Tzu (2). Everyone needs healthy relationships to be able to
bond and share ideas and even for health reasons like a reduction of stress. Our friends
show the kind of people we are; most of us make friends with people we share common
interests. Tzu uses the analogy of a bird that builds its nest on reeds but loses it when
the wind blows because the reeds aren’t strong enough to hold it (1). Just like the bird,
we may build our lives into what we want, with all the right goals and a vision of where
we want to be, but our friends may destroy it. Psychologically, surrounding yourself with
positive energy, determines how driven you are and how quickly you get to your goals.
A certain orchid root is used in making a perfume called “chih,” but if the root were to
grow in a vile substance, the perfume would not be appealing (Tzu 2). We all need the
right environment in order to grow emotionally and psychologically and to give us
motivation whenever we lose sight of our paths in life. More often than not, we surround
ourselves with friends, and we can only move forward if those friends are the right ones.
According to Tzu, learning basically means achieving oneness (4). You need to
be able to finish what you begin and finish it in the best possible way. In order to deal
with issues, we all need a certain strategy or a defined approach towards
problem-solving. The right strategy gets things done. Experience is the best teacher, but
it’s wise to make use of the intellect of others and the explanations of scholars, then you
will “become honored and make your way anywhere in the world.” The right counsel
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leads to correct decision making, and decisions set off a chain reaction in every aspect
of life since all choices have consequences. There’s a need to carefully consider the
people we share counsel with as well as the actions we take to deal with issues.
Negativity inside us attracts negativity from all around us, and to act towards people in
the wrong way just generally puts a leash on progress and the right ideologies.
“Associate with the learned, there’s nothing more profitable” (Tzu 4).
A gentleman has different character traits, and the most important one is
understanding the true value of learning. Education shapes our lives and gives
everyone an equal chance to go past the boundaries that life sets. Making friends, being
a scholar, and acting towards others to deal with issues are some of the perspectives
we can apply Tzu’s ideology of being a gentleman. Every moment in life is an
opportunity to learn something new, and it’s up to you to decide what you learn and
whether or not to let that lesson take root to influence your life for the better.


Hsün Tzu, Basic Writings, translated by Burton Watson (New York, New York: Columbia University Press,
1963), pages 15-23
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