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I was trying out 听故事学中文 and read the story about 三块巧克力 (another version is here). I'll add my translation below:

有个孩子放学后,在客厅里玩篮球,不慎打落书架上的一个花瓶。孩子慌忙用胶水把碎片粘起来,胆战心惊地放回原位。
After school a child was playing basketball in the living room, and carelessly broke a vase on a bookshelf. The child hurriedly glued the pieces together, and scared he returned it back to its original position.

当天晚上,母亲发现花瓶有些“变化”,就问孩子:“是不是你打碎了花瓶?”
That evening, his mother found the vase had "changed", and asked him "did you break the vase?"

孩子灵机一动,说:“有一只野猫从窗外跳进来,碰倒了花瓶。”母亲很清楚,孩子在撒谎,但她没有说什么。
The boy had a bright idea and said "a stray cat came in through the window and knocked off the vase". His mother was clear that he was lying, but didn't say anything.

睡觉前,母亲从抽屉里拿出一块巧克力递给孩子说:“这块巧克力奖给你。因为你运用神奇的想象力,杜撰出一只会开窗户的猫,以后,你一定可以写出好看的侦探小说。”
After sleeping, the mother took a chocolate bare from a drawer and said "this chocolate is your prize, because you used our mythical imagination to make up a cat coming in through the window, and afterwards you can write good detective novels."

接着,她又在孩子手里放了一块巧克力:“这块巧克力奖给你。因为你有杰出的修复能力,裂缝黏合得几乎完美无缺。”
Continuing, she gave him another bar of chocolate, saying "this is a prize, because of your outstanding restoration; the cracks are glued together almost flawlessly."

母亲又拿出第三块巧克力,说:“最后一块巧克力,代表我对你深深的歉意。作为母亲,我不应该把花瓶放在容易摔落的地方,希望你没有被砸到或者吓到。”
The mother took out another bar of chocolate, and said "this last bar of chocolate expresses my deep regret towards you. As your mother, I should not have left a vase in a place where it can be easily broken, and hope you are not smashed or frightened."

孩子听了,羞愧地低下了头。从此以后,他再也没有撒过一次谎。
The boy listened, and ashamed he lowered his head; he never lied again.

这是比惩罚更深刻的奖励。
Compared to a punishment, this is a profound reward.

I think I've basically translated it okay, and get the general mechanics of the situation, but I'm failing to see anything profound about this story: after all, the mother rewards him for lying, and seems to blame herself for him breaking the vase while playing basketball. It seems like he would continue to lie, after benefiting from it. However, it's possible I'm missing some subtleties here.

Question: What is the moral of the short story 三块巧克力?

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Possible explanations (some of which are found on the Internet):

(1) The mother responds to the boy's rebelliousness with forgiveness, love and understanding, thus made him ashamed of having intended to lie and deny everything.

(2) If the mother had punished him, the boy might become even more determined to lie the next time he does something wrong, in order to escape punishment.

(3) The mother saw the good side (that the boy repaired the vase), which I believe symbolizes encouraging him to fix a mistake rather than to lie about one.

(4) The mother tried to find problems from herself (third chocolate) rather than simply blaming his son for breaking the vase. Maybe this sets a example for her son, teaching him to try to find his own problem rather than shifting responsibility.

But still, such things usually don't have a standard answer so you're welcome to interpret it in any way that is acceptable. And since such stories often describe idealistic situation, it is perfectly normal for us to find them unrealistic.

Also, I found a more complete version, which contains more descriptions of their emotions and stuff, and might help you with the understanding.

一天,男孩儿贝克放学后在客厅里玩篮球。正玩得起劲的时候,篮球不慎打落书架上的一个花瓶,花瓶“咚”地一声摔到地板上,瓶口顿时摔掉一大块碎片。更令孩子大为惊骇的是,这个花瓶不是普通的摆设品,而是家里祖辈相传的一件古董。为了掩盖自己闯下的弥天大祸,孩子慌乱地把碎片用胶水粘起来,胆战心惊地放回原位。

由于每天都会亲自擦拭花瓶上的灰尘,所以当天晚上,细心的母亲就发现了花瓶的“变化”。吃晚餐时,她问孩子:“是不是你打碎了花瓶?”害怕受到惩罚的孩子灵机一动说,一只野猫从窗外跳进来,怎么赶也赶不走,它在客厅里上窜下跳,最后碰倒了架子上的花瓶。母亲很清楚,孩子在撒谎,因为每天都是她在上班前把窗户一扇扇关好,下班回来再一一打开的。然而面对孩子胆怯的眼神和家人疑惑的目光,母亲只是不动声色地说,看来是我疏忽了,没有关好窗户。

就寝前,孩子在床前发现了一张便条,母亲让他马上到书房去。本以为蒙混过关的孩子顿时心里一沉,看来还是难逃一劫。既然已经撒了谎,他打定主意,无论母亲说什么,都据死不承认,这样他就是发再大的火也拿他无可奈何了。

书房里,橘红色的灯光柔柔地弥散开来,母亲的脸平静地沉浸在光晕中,没有一丝波澜。看到孩子忐忑不安地推门进来,她从抽屉里拿出一个巧克力盒子,把其中一块巧克力递给孩子:“贝克,这块巧克力奖你,因为你运用神奇的想象力创造出一只会开窗户的小猫,以后你一定可以写出很好看的侦探小说。”接着,她又在孩子手里放了一块巧克力:“这块巧克力奖给你杰出的修复能力。虽然用的是胶水,但是裂缝吻合得几乎完美无缺呢。不过记住,你用的胶水是用于修复纸质物品的,修复花瓶不仅需要更强有力的胶水,还需要更高的专业技术。明天我们把花瓶拿到艺术家那里,看看他们是怎样使一件工艺品完好如初的。”母亲一边说,一边又拿起第三块巧克力:“这最后的一块巧克力代表我对你的深深歉意。作为母亲,我不应该把花瓶放在那么容易摔落的地方,尤其是当家里有一个热衷体育的男孩子的时候。希望你没有被砸到或者吓到,我的小甜心。”

“可是,妈妈,我……”孩子之前那颗叛逆的心早就飞到了九霄云外,他努力解释什么,然而只笨拙地吐出几个单词。母亲用手指轻轻挡在孩子唇上:“我的巧克力盒子已经空了,所以我们的谈话已经结束了,现在去睡觉吧,晚安贝克。”她温柔地吻了吻贝克的前额,然后走出了书房。

之后的日子,一切照旧,唯一的变化是,孩子再也没有撒过一次谎,每当他不由自主地想要撒谎时,那三块巧克力就会立即浮在眼前。

没有一句责骂,没有一点非难,明明犯了错误,却得到了三块巧克力的奖励。表面看起来匪夷所思,实际上正是这三块巧克力告诫孩子做人要诚实,它们时时刻刻都是孩子心灵上的警醒。

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but I'm failing to see anything profound about this story

The moral of the story is 以德服人, 勝於以法冶人. (use kindness to convince people to do the right thing on their own is better than use punishment to deter people from doing the wrong thing out of fear). It is a typical ideal of '儒家思想' (Confucianism)

The main plot of the story is about how the mother dealt with her son's misbehavior. Instead of using punishment to deter him, she used kindness to encourage her son to stop lying to her on his own.

If she punished him, he might not lie to her again out of fear, but treating him with kindness, he would be graceful to her and be ashamed if he ever lie to her again.

Notice, she did not teach her son lying is wrong, her goal was to make her son feels 'lying to his mother is wrong'

The following is a different story with a similar message:

Qin Mugong (秦穆公)'s beloved horse was stolen and eaten by the savage tribe in his country. The minister of law wanted to arrest the savages and punish them, but Qin Mugong did not agree. He actually sent the savages fine wine to drink instead. Saying: "Eating horse meat without drinking wine is harmful to one's health. The savages too are my subjects under my care" The savages were graceful to the lord and never caused any trouble in Qin again. You can say it is a display of management wisdom in Qin Mugong's part. If he punished those savages, they would be resentful to the government and cause more trouble in the future.

In 法家思想 (Legalism), the son who lied and the savages who stole should be punished according to the degree of their crime.

  • There are a lot of ideals in Confucianism that are questionable to me. For example, A lord once said to Confucius: " The people of my country are very moral, if a father committed a crime, his son would turn him in; if a big brother committed a crime, his little brother would turn him in" . Confucius replied: "The people in my country are also very moral, a son would shelter his father; a little brother would shelter his big brother." – Tang Ho Jul 8 at 11:38
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The key is what the mother did towards the lie of her son. She rewarded his son by giving chocolates instead of blaming or anything, which actually turned out a better result (his son felt ashamed and never lied again).

The story tells us that blaming sometimes is not the best way to deal with wrongdoings. There could be some other alternatives like what the mother did. So, it suggest that we should be wise when we encounter such cases.

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