Context: My father (GW) was telling me to be careful of strangers and being overly compassionate when I moved in with my roommates. He told me a Chinese tale as an example.
GW: “There once was a farmer who was very compassionate. He was always tenderhearted to everyone and supported his neighbors and his community when they didn’t have enough food. Everybody really liked him. One particularly cold winter, he was going into his house when he found a snake lying on the ground, freezing, and half-dead. Feeling pity and sadness for the snake, the farmer held the snake close to his bosom and went inside, hoping to warm the snake and save its life. When the snake woke up, the farmer was relieved. The snake bit the farmer, and the poison soon reached his heart. The farmer died.”
Me: “Wait that’s it?”
Background: This story was one that my grandparents told my father when he was in his teens. My father told me the tale to tell me to be careful of strangers because while an individual can be kindhearted and want to help someone, there are people in the world who will take advantage of that.
Thoughts: I was really surprised about the abrupt ending of the tale given the way my father told the tale in the beginning. I was expecting the ending to be the farmer saved the snake and something good happened. My father said that the abrupt ending he used was to emphasize the coldness and finality of the farmer’s death. Of course, we all want to be compassionate towards others, and we often feel sympathetic when we see other people in pain, even when we do not know these other people personally. The tale has taught me to be smart about my decisions, and to keep in mind that while helping others is always good, it is also important to always be cautious.