Defining by Illustration

Examples are valuable when you define, especially in dealing with abstractions. Heroism, for instance, is most easily explained by illustrating heroic (and perhaps nonheroic) actions. In the following paragraph an anthropologist is explaining to Americans what "self-respect" means to the Japanese. She contrasts the Japanese conception of the quality with the American.

The heart of her definition, however, lies in the examples of how the Japanese behave to maintain self-respect:

In any language the contexts in which people speak of losing or gaining self-respect throw a flood of light on their view of life. In Japan "respecting yourself" is always to show yourself the careful player. It does not mean, as it does in English usage, consciously conforming to a worthy standard of truckling to an other, not lying, not giving false testimony. In Japan self-respect (jicho) is literally "a self that is weighty," and its opposite is "a self that is light and floating." When a man says "You must respect yourself," it means, "You must be shrewd in estimating all the factors involved in the situation and do nothing that will arouse criticism or lessen your chances of success." "Respecting yourself" often implies exactly the opposite behavior from that which it means in the United States. An employee says, "I must respect myself (jicho)," and it means, not that he must stand on his rights, but that he must say nothing to his employers that will get him into trouble. "You must respect yourself" had this same meaning, too, in political usage. It meant that a "person of weight" could not respect himself if he indulged in anything so rash as "dangerous thoughts." It had no implication, as it would in the United States, that even if thoughts are dangerous a man's self-respect requires that he think according to his own lights and his own conscience.

Ruth Benedict

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Project Management Made Easy

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