Tsunetomo on giving opinions

Ever so often you'll get asked to weigh in on some topic or asked what you think of someone's work.

From 1709 to 1719, Tsuramoto Tashiro compiled his conversations with the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Years later, these conversations were published as Hagakure or “Hidden by the Leaves”. Even today, it is still a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. What follows are his thoughts on sharing one’s opinion.

To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leave-taking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults. This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man? – Tsunetomo.

Consider these words the next time someone asks what you think of something they’ve done.