Student News

Words to Live By: Be True to Yourself and Open to Change

Mary Ellen Friends – May 15, 2014

He who stands on tiptoe
Doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
Doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
Dims his own light.
He who defines himself
Can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
Can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
Will create nothing that endures.
–Laozi, Daodejing (possibly c. 6th century B.C.)

Overall, Laozi is trying to say stay true to yourself and your abilities. In the first line, Laozi says that people who try to modify themselves so they stand taller can not even stand; for that is not who they are. It is related to how a kid might act and talk as though he is a very good lacrosse player, when he does not have a solid foundation of lacrosse to stand on. In the second line, Laozi is stating that someone who tries to rush ahead of the curve will not go far because in the process of rushing, he is cutting corners and skipping important steps. This is applicable at Deerfield because often students try and go at a pace that is very fast, whether it is learning chemistry or doing a math problem. Mistakes are bound to be made and lessons are bound to be skipped as a result of the rushing. In the line, “He who tries to shine dims his own light,” Laozi is exemplifying that he who tries to show off too much will focus on glamour versus the activity that he is taking part of and will not be able to play well. Sometimes when girls are watching my squash match I try to look extra good, as a result I play extra badly because I am trying to shine too much.

“He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.” This is a common occurrence on Deerfield campus, where people try to generate public identities for themselves when they do not even know who they really are. Avoiding this is key. A person has to spend time by him or herself to discover what he or she really enjoys doing and not conforming to be a popular presence in the world. “He who has power over others can’t empower himself.” In this line, Laozi states that one who has power over others is essentially being endorsed with power by others; the person in question cannot empower his own self because followers are the ones giving him power. This is extremely relevant in social scenes at Deerfield, where the head of clique can only have the power to do something if others agree with him or her. For example, if the Queen Bee wants to pick on a girl, she won’t have the ability to do it unless she has the approval and mutual interest of her fellow girlfriends. “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.” Someone who his caught up in his own great work cannot always see the input of others, so his work might satisfy his needs but maybe not the needs of others. When I write a great paper for history and my teacher gives me suggestions for revision, it would be wise to take her suggestions and apply them. Laozi is telling readers that being open to other people’s input can be a way to improve your own work.

Part of being yourself as a student is to go at the pace you can go at and take classes that are right for your abilities. As a person, being yourself is doing things you want to do and not worrying about what others think. For when you worry about what others think, you are not able to make decisions for yourself. You must define yourself and locate your values, do not conform to others’ values to be cool.

— Daniel Finnegan ‘17