Student News

Words to Live By: Follow Your Greater Qualities

Mary Ellen Friends – May 13, 2014

“Those who follow the greater qualities in their nature become great men and those who follow the smaller qualities in their nature become small men… If we first build up the nobler part of our nature, then the inferior part cannot overcome it.”
Mencius, c. 372-289 b. c. e.

Mencius, a Confucian philosopher of the Warring States Period, believes that man’s nature is originally good. People can develop bad natures, but they originally have good intentions. People can continually develop their good qualities, minimizing their bad ones. Unfortunately, not only can people enhance the good qualities they possess, but it is possible to strengthen someone’s selfish nature as well. A person can be good and still have bad qualities. As simply stated by Mencius, those who choose to develop their better characteristics become better people than those who take the alternate “bad” route. The second part of the quote encourages people to develop their good characteristics, mitigating the bad. With less power, the bad cannot easily make a great man small. As shown in standard children’s movies, some believe that good always wins, that evil cannot beat good. The quote inspires people to become great men and not succumb to pressure that would develop their petty nature.

Although it is rather blunt in its expression, I find this quote inspiring. Every day I think about what type of person I am instead of considering the two options presented by Mencius: am I great or small? My habit has been to stress over the fine details of my identity, when I should notice the nature of my characteristics instead. Once I distinguish my good and petty traits, I will be able to strengthen the better qualities I have. When I read this quote, I became aware that I formerly focused on my bad qualities rather than solidifying my greater ones. Instead of focusing only on dimming the selfish traits, I should brighten the good. Reading Mencius’ quote boosts my confidence and makes me recognize that I should strive to improve myself, not fret over the petty aspects of my nature. I can recognize myself as a greater person by doing this.

Deerfield community members and people in general can agree with Mencius. We are human, which means that we have our admirable and less agreeable traits, but anyone can overcome their worst trait by putting their best ones forward. Living at Deerfield not only pushes students’ independence, but also forces them to face themselves and question what makes them the person staring back at them in the mirror. If a compassionate, humble person moves to a new school and is looking for friends, he may be tempted to embrace his bad qualities by meeting selfish people (these people are bad influences). Interacting with people who have strengthened their petty traits can bring out the bad qualities in a good person. This is possible especially if that good person embraces or conforms to his desired friend’s personality. The better person can be friends with the bad influence, but if he wishes to stay a great man, he must constantly strengthen his good traits in order to put down the bad ones he develops. As I will try to do, people need to find time to sit by themselves, look past their selfish traits, and find the qualities that make them a great individual.

–Alaina Chen ’17