Student News

Words to Live By: The Spirit of Inquiry

Friends, Mary Ellen – April 28, 2014

The gentleman uses learning to ennoble himself; the petty man uses learning as a bribe to win attention from others. —Xunzi (Hsun Tzu), c. 310-220 b.c.e.

Through this quote, Xunzi establishes the difference between a respectable person and a small-minded one, explicitly in terms of acquiring knowledge. He states that a “gentleman” is eager to learn out of interest and in the spirit of inquiry. On the other hand, “the petty man” uses learning to celebrate how brilliant he is. Instead of a desire to improve their writing or a willingness to get to know a fellow classmate, these “petty” people are more concerned with how they appear to the general public. They want the whole world to acknowledge what they have accomplished: the hours of charity work done in an underdeveloped country, the robotics research project lead at Harvard, the A+ received on a recent HONORS History paper. Not only do they want people to know of such accomplishments, but they also expect praise and celebration as a subsequent outcome.

Deerfield is known to attract some of the most motivated and talented students in the world. This collective group of exemplary work ethics and early successes generate a sort of pressure to always do well, whether it is in academics, sports, music, or social life. It is only natural for Deerfield students to take pride in their achievements, as they are fundamental ingredients in expressing who they are as individuals. Having said that, the burden of perfectionism often leads to a disastrous cycle of working to impress, or learning for the approval of our parents, teachers, coaches, and friends. For this reason, Deerfield students should refer to Xunzi’s quote and keep in mind the difference between genuine and inauthentic learning. We should challenge ourselves in order to enrich our interests and equip ourselves to become more capable people. So the next time you have optional crew practice or an abstract English essay prompt, don’t take the easy way out. Rather, learn “to ennoble” yourself by going harder at practice and by choosing the difficult topic that won’t necessarily get you a better grade. These opportunities will translate to a more enriching Deerfield experience, and make a greater impact on those around us.

–Hae June Lee ‘16