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Peter lived for nearly a half-decade in China, including two as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is the author of Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the (Chinese) Way. It is the intention of his blog to foster the sort of intercultural understanding necessary for long term relationships.
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Who's The Best Lover? (The Ferry Boat Story)    

By Peter V
4576 Views | 13 Comments | 12/17/2010 7:58:44 PM

I came across the following parable in the blog of a Chinese friend. I hope she doesn’t mind my reprinting it here. It’s my own translation. I’ve been rather loose with some of the language and know I’ve made some mistakes. However, I think I’ve conveyed the basic sense of the story accurately. In any case, I have supplied the original so I hope someone will let me know if there are any really egregious mistakes. After thinking about this tale for a while, I decided there was more here than meets the eye. In fact, it’s not only guaranteed to generate an interesting discussion but, as you will see, I think it serves as a type of emotional intelligence test, allowing us to explore some of our intuitions about love and relationships. Here’s the story:

There is a man called M. He wants to cross a river to meet and marry his fiancée, F. He has to take a boat across the river, so he starts looking around to find one. He sees a woman L who has a boat. She is very beautiful (the woman, not the boat) and M., being a man, makes love to L. Afterwards, L says to him “I love you. Do you love me?” M is an honest guy and says. “Sorry, I have a fiancée, so I can’t love you.” L then refuses to take M on her boat, saying, “I love you but you do not love me. This is not fair. I am not going to take you on this boat!”

M is very depressed and continues looking for a boat. He finds a woman called S who has a boat. M asks S to take him across the river. S says. I will take you on the boat but I have one condition. I think you are kind of cute. I don’t care whether you feel the same way. But you have to spend the night with me if you want the boat. Otherwise, no deal. M is in great distress. L won’t take him across and S will only let him on the boat if he sleeps with her. These are the only two boats. He agrees to S’s demand and the next day S honors the bargain and takes him across.

When he sees F his heart his troubled and after thinking for a while decides to tell her about L and S. When she hears this, F is very sad and angry and cannot forgive M for his infidelity and breaks off the relationship. At this time in M’s life there appears another woman, E. They fall in love. E asks M if there is anything he wants to tell her. He tells her about F, S and L. E tells him she does not care about his past, that’s not her business.

After hearing this story, you are supposed to rate the five people in terms of who is the most morally blameworthy and who is the most morally praiseworthy. It’s worth, I think, taking a minute to review the behavior of the participants in this saga in order to see if there is any sense in which they can be weighed against each other. Certainly M must be said to be honest, to a fault as we say in America. But he also cheated on his fiancée. Twice. The first time supposedly on account of lust, the second time, it seems, as a result of calculation, but one driven by love for the aforementioned fiancée. Do we forgive M either of his transgressions? Do we admire his honesty? L seems to be selfish, denying M a trip on a boat just to spite him. Do we understand and forgive her resentment? S, on the other hand, must have known M was engaged and, despite this, unconcerned about the ethical implications of her actions—causing M to cheat on his fiancée. She also seems rather callous in her attitude towards sex, viewing it as a merely physical act. On the other hand, she is completely open and honest about her intentions and does not say more than she feels and does not demand more than people can give. F has done nothing wrong, but she does seem unable to forgive. Is this a fault, or merely being human? And what about E? There seems little to object to in her behavior, although one might view her as naïve.

So your task, should you decide to accept it, is to rank the various people from (1) most morally praiseworthy to (5) most morally blameworthy. I’ll provide my own assessment after I hear from others.

有个男人叫M,他要过河去和未婚妻F相会结婚,但两人一河相隔,M必须要借船过河才能见到F,于是他开始四处找船。 这时见一个女子L刚好有船,M跟L借,L遇到M后爱上了他,就问:我爱上你了,你爱我吗?M比较诚实,说:对不起,我有未婚妻,我不能爱你。这么一来,L死活是不把船借给M,她的理由是:我爱你,你不爱我,这不公平,我不会借你的!

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#2010-12-17 22:42:29 by kalzorch @kalzorch

M's one real transgression was making love to L. On the other hand, he did give up L's love in favor of F, and he did come clean to F. Under the circumstances his night with S should be of no concern to F.

F is a fool. M's honesty should be considered compensation enough for his single real transgression. Her transgression is inability to forgive even under favorable circumstances. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." No doubt she believes that she holds the moral high ground.

It is "obvious" to put E at position 1 as the most praiseworthy. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to forgive cheating on another woman as opposed to cheating on herself. Her test was not comparable to that of F, and so we don't really know if she is better than F. Although she has done nothing morally blameworthy, she has also not been morally tested much.

L is spiteful, punishing M for his (remaining) fidelity. She is a spoiled brat. She illustrates well the difference between love and infatuation. Love is wanting the best for the other person, infatuation is simply wanting the other person. She is dishonest to boot, claiming that she is acting out of love when clearly she is not.

Similar to L, S is acting childishly out of infatuation. The critical difference is that she doesn't pretend that it is love.

1 - M
2 - E
3 - S
4 - F
5 - L

M has been put to several severe tests. He failed at one of them, but compensated by remaining loyal to F plus two acts of unforced candor. He has proven that, even though not perfect, on the whole he is honorable. E did nothing blameworthy, but was also much less tested. L edges out F for bottom position because she is dishonest as well as spiteful.

#2010-12-18 01:12:53 by chrisfr2 @chrisfr2

1E 2F 3S 4L 5M
anyway kill them all, god will recognize his childs

#2010-12-22 16:47:23 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Kalzorch, although I recognize you have a unique POV I doubt that many would agree that the mere act of confession would be considered "compensation enough" for the transgression of betrayal. Only if they had agreed in advance that their relationship be open could that be true. I'm going to assume that F and M had not agreed to an "open" relationship or M would not have had a "troubled heart" and F would not have felt "sad and angry". Infidelity in itself is not evil, but if you have entered a pact to be monogamous then infidelity is betrayal, and betrayal in any relationship is deadly. F has simply decided not to accept or live with betrayal from her partner. She is being true to herself and is not, in my opinion, deserving of your scorn. Presumably then M is guilty of betrayal and not deserving of your praise.

Chrisfr2, although your suggestion seems to be lacking in the Christmas Spirit it is damned funny, and I can't help but agree with you. None of these characters seem worthy of our caring about them, so sure, kill them all as Shakespeare would have done to the lawyers.

Peter, based upon my presumption that this couple had agreed to monogamy, I would rank them as follows regarding their praiseworthiness:

1. S - she made a bargain open and honestly and kept it. She owed nothing to F (only M had that) and we have no reason to hold anything against her.

2. F - she maybe should have been more forgiving, but at least she recognized that she could not live with betrayal and cut short a relationship that was apparently doomed, rather than dragging it out and thereby ruining both her own life and M's.

3. E - has not been tested and we can say nothing good or bad about her except that perhaps she is naive to think M would not betray her as he had betrayed F.

4. L - presumably she did not ask M if he had a committed relationship, but equally she may have been somewhat entitled to rely on his silence on the subject and assume that she was giving herself to a man who was available for the long term. Her spitefulness for finding out he wasn't is perhaps not admirable but it is understandable. However, we don't much like her for being a sore loser.

5. M - Again assuming the likely pact to be faithful M is a person who is guilty of betrayal, of having broken a promise. He has demonstrated he can't be trusted. As such he is at the moment at the bottom of the barrel. Hopefully he learns a lesson from this and can rise to the top over time.

#2010-12-22 22:17:46 by kalzorch @kalzorch

Imagine that a man is driving a car and stops for a beautiful young lady hitchhiker. He offers a ride only on the condition that she sleep with him. How morally praiseworthy is that? Isn't it even worse saying it to a customer who wants to pay for a public service? Imagine if every store owner made conditions like that; wouldn't that be a primitive society? "You want to buy this apple? Kiss me. Oh, you're married? So what?" Isn't this at the very least a flagrant disregard of morality?

As for "compensation enough," consider that M had only his honor to gain with his candor, and everything to lose. Some would say that he was the fool for revealing more than necessary. Apparently he mistook F for a forgiving, understanding person. He learned otherwise, and he is better off without her. Maybe this is why he told her.

With people like F, there is no hope that he "... can rise to the top over time." She will always consider him to be untrustworthy. I believe the ability to forgive is the ultimate test of love. When Jesus' disciples asked him if they should forgive a transgressor even seven times, he said: "I say unto you, not seven times, but seventy times seven." Obviously Jesus considered forgiveness as nonoptional.

Neither S nor F has treated M like they would want to be treated. Thus they have broken the Golden Rule, and can hardly be considered morally praiseworthy.

#2010-12-22 22:19:09 by kalzorch @kalzorch

BTW, Peter, there is a typo in this sentence:

"When she hears this, S is very sad and angry and cannot forgive M for his infidelity and breaks off the relationship."

Presumably it is F who breaks off the relationship, not S.

#2010-12-24 23:11:35 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

kalzroch, I don't mean to hold a double standard, but I don't think it's the same if a woman demands sex from a man as if a man demands sex from a woman. It's sort of like these 16 year old high school boys who have sex with their female teachers. It is simply not the moral equivalent to a 16 year old girl having sex with a male teacher. So I tend to admire S's honesty and openness with sexuality. However, I even more admie E's forgiveness, perhaps because I have needed to be forgiven in the same way at times. I agree, John, she may be naive. But coming from a land with a fifty percent divorce rate, you almost have to be naive to believe any relationship can work, especially if you have been around for any period of time. I understand F's bitterness but don't find it morally praiseworthy, but she has more of a right to it than L. As for M, well, I tend to told with the Chinese classic "The Story of the Stone": Men are from mud, women from water. SO my final standings are: 1:E 2:S 3:F 4:L 5:M
kalzorch, thanks for pointing out the typo

#2010-12-28 21:32:25 by aussieghump @aussieghump

C'mon guys, this is China!

Back in the office, M would be a star!! Bedding 3 women on his way home!
Actually, if M is a manager, it is expected of him!!!

I'll call your attention to the recent Chinese Internet furore over the Tobacco Company boss writing of his exploits and corruption in beautifully crafted sonnets. Most netizens applauded his 'good husband skills' because he gave some of the bribe money to his wife and son, and 'good official skills' because he didn't take too much money, and his 'nice boss status' for choosing a luxurious hotel for entertaining his female staff members! And his 'classical writing skills' showed he was a 'scholarly and respectable'!

#2018-07-31 22:27:35 by fenfangzhao @fenfangzhao




M对于S 的无理要求完全可以拒绝,他可以再寻找其它的办法过河,或者另外一天再来想办法,或者可以从女性人格和尊严上感化L和S,而不应该为达目的,丢失尊严和良心,做出违背自己意愿的、不道德的事情,最终导致自己的内心不安。表面上看,他是为了F而委屈自己,与S发生一夜情,但深层面来看,他是一个做事没有原则和道德底线的男人,最终,他还是过不了自己良心这一关,还是失去了F。



L 的行为只是爱与恨的范畴,她有选择爱与恨的权力,也有选择帮与不帮的权力。她并没有违背做为情人和女人道德上的行为。


E,她并没有出现在M过去的生活中,所以对于M过去的事情与她并没有关系,所以她可以不在乎,不去计较。 她更在意的是M与她现在和将来的生活。所以,对于这个事情,E谈不上道德与不道德。









#2018-11-15 05:49:06 by kalzorch @kalzorch

When M finally meets up with F, he has a choice to make.  He can be sensible, keep his mouth shut, and deceive F into thinking that he is something that he is not.  Instead he decides to tell her the truth.  Now why would he do something so stupid?  I think one reason is that by maintaining silence, he would be implicitly lying, not telling the whole truth, covering up his mis-deeds, pretending to be something he is not.  He has already done at least one mis-deed; should he add insult to injury by committing another?

Russians have a saying that it is better to be whacked with the truth than caressed with lies.  I think the other reason M told the truth was to test F.  He doesn't want to marry a woman who prefers pleasant lies to the truth.  She clearly thinks fidelity is more important than honesty.  If the roles were to be reversed, he couldn't expect honesty from her.  She also clearly has not learned about the all-importance of forgiveness, which is absolutely central to both Buddhism and Christianity.

For my money, F shows substantial character defects, and M is better off without her.

#2018-11-15 15:33:46 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@kalzorch - WOW!!! You have been sleeping on that thought for a very long time.  What brought you back to this blog after 8 years to give that very insightful response?

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