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Margaret Mead

  • I did not write it [Coming of Age in Samoa] as a popular book, but only with the hope that it would be intelligible to those who might make the best use of its theme, that adolescence need not be the time of stress and strain which Western society made it; that growing up could be freer and easier and less complicated; and also that there were prices to pay for the very lack of complication I found in Samoa — less intensity, less individuality, less involvement with life.

  • ... the negative cautions of science are never popular.

  • Because our civilization is woven of so many diverse strands, the ideas which any one group accepts will be found to contain numerous contradictions.

  • A society which is clamoring for choice, which is filled with many articulate groups, each urging its own brand of salvation, its own variety of economic philosophy, will give each new generation no peace until all have chosen or gone under, unable to bear the conditions of choice. ... we must turn all of our educational efforts to training our children for the choices which will confront them.

  • ... children must be taught how to think, not what to think.

  • Just as the difference in height between males is no longer a realistic issue, now that lawsuits have been substituted for hand-to-hand encounters, so the difference in strength between men and women is no longer worth elaboration in cultural institutions.

  • An occupation that has no basis in sex-determined gifts can now recruit its ranks from twice as many potential artists.

  • Historically our own culture has relied for the creation of rich and contrasting values upon many artificial distinctions, the most striking of which is sex. ... If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.

  • We must bear in mind the possibility that the greater opportunities open in the twentieth century to women may be quite withdrawn, and that we may return to stricter regimentation of women ...

  • Warfare ... is just an invention, older and more widespread than the jury system, but none the less an invention.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • Warfare Is Only an Invention -- Not a Biological Necessity
    • ()
  • ... American society is very like a fish society, based as it is on length of residence in a community rather than upon original antecedents or special personality characteristics. ... among certain species of fish, the only thing which determines order of dominance is length of time in the fish-bowl. The oldest resident picks on the newest resident, and if the newest resident is removed to a new bowl, he as oldest resident will pick on the newcomers.

  • The assumption that men were created equal, with an equal ability to make an effort and win an earthly reward, although denied every day by experience, is maintained every day by our folklore and our daydreams.

  • Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.

  • There is no hierarchy of values by which one culture has the right to insist on all its own values and deny those of another ...

  • Those social behaviors which automatically preclude the building of a democratic world must go — every social limitation of human beings in terms of heredity, whether it be of race, or sex, or class. Every social institution which teaches human beings to cringe to those above and step on those below must be replaced by institutions which teach people to look each other straight in the face ...

  • We know of no culture that has said, articulately, that there is no difference between men and women except in the way they contribute to the creation of the next generation.

  • Man's role is uncertain, undefined, and perhaps unnecessary.

  • It is of very doubtful value to enlist the gifts of a woman into fields that have been defined as male; it frightens the men, unsexes the women, and muffles and distorts the contribution women could make.

  • ... women are scolded both for being mothers and for not being mothers, for wanting to eat their cake and have it too, and for not wanting to eat their cake and have it too ...

  • Monogamous heterosexual love is probably one of the most difficult, complex and demanding of human relationships.

  • ... to the extent that either sex is disadvantaged, the whole culture is poorer, and the sex that, superficially, inherits the earth, inherits only a very partial legacy. The more whole the culture, the more whole each member, each man, each woman, each child will be.

  • ... we need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin ...

  • ... some veil between childhood and the present is necessary. If the veil is withdrawn, the artistic imagination sickens and dies, the prophet looks in the mirror with a disillusioned and cynical sneer, the scientist goes fishing.

  • ... our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited.

  • Living in the modern world, clothed and muffled, forced to convey our sense of our bodies in terms of remote symbols like walking sticks and umbrellas and handbags, it is easy to lose sight of the immediacy of the human body plan.

  • So we end up with the contradictory picture of a society that appears to throw its doors wide open to women, but translates her every step towards success as having been damaging ...

  • In each age there is a series of pressing questions which must be asked and answered. On the correctness of the questions depends the survival of those who ask; on the quality of the answers depends the quality of the life those survivors will lead.

  • ... laughter, that distinctively human emotion, laughter which springs from trust in the other, from willingness to put oneself momentarily in the other's place, even at one's own expense, is the special emotional basis of democratic procedures, just as pride is the emotion of an aristocracy, shame of a crowd that rules, and fear of a police state.

  • Keeping even the most humble talent wrapped in a napkin becomes the more reprehensible the greater the emergency.

  • ... we came to realize that a civilization which rode roughshod over the way of life of other peoples was incorporating evil in its own way of life.

  • ... throughout human history there has been a struggle between the proponents of closed and open systems, systems that could change their forms, accommodate to new ideas, retain the allegiance of new generations within them rather than goad them into rebellion or desertion, systems that welcomed the ideas, the questions, and the members of other systems, and those contrasting systems which hardened into exclusiveness and conservatism, so that wars of conquest, the rack, the ritual trial, the war on unbelievers in which one attained merit by killing them, became their destructive methods of self-perpetuation.

  • Women want mediocre men, and men are working hard to be as mediocre as possible.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Quote ()
  • Sometimes, instead of helping people to advance, a discovery or an invention holds them back.

  • Wonder is very important, because if we never wondered, we would never get to the point of asking questions. Yet wonder may lead people to write poetry or to paint pictures or to pray, as well as to ask the kinds of questions about the world and themselves that can be answered by science.

  • Our first and most pressing problem is how to do away with warfare as a method of solving conflicts between national groups or between groups within a society who have different views about how the society is to be run. If you look back, you will see that warfare was an invention, just as ways of handling government or taxes are inventions. You will see, too, that once people use an invention they go on using it until they find another which they think is superior.

  • ... life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: You have to get it right the first time.

  • The first step in the direction of a world rule of law is the recognition that peace no longer is an unobtainable ideal but a necessary condition of continued human existence.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in New York Times Magazine ()
  • ... if one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the legal structure of the country.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • Laughter is man's most distinctive emotional expression. Man shares the capacity for love and hate, anger and fear, loyalty and grief, with other living creatures. But humor, which has an intellectual as well as an emotional element, belongs to man.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • Leisure and the cultivation of human capacities are inextricably interdependent.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • ... the ability to learn is older — as it is also more widespread — than is the ability to teach.

  • Our human situation no longer permits us to make armed dichotomies between those who are good and those who are evil, those who are right and those who are wrong. The first blow dealt to the enemy's children will sign the death warrant of our own.

  • I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in this world.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • In our contemporary world, no one can think or work with a single picture of what a family is. No one can fit all human behavior, all thought and feeling, into a single pattern.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • ... the task of each family is also the task of all humanity. This is to cherish the living, remember those who have gone before, and prepare for those who are not yet born.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • Every act of motherhood contains a dual intent, as the mother holds the child close and prepares it to move way from her, as she supports the child and stands it firmly on its own feet, and as she guards it against danger and sends it out across the yard, down by the stream, and across the traffic-crowded highway. Unless a mother can do both — gather her child close and turn her child out toward the world — she will fail in her purpose.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period when this was not so. We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • ... where families suffer from disasters that are preventable, this is a measure of a whole nation's neglect. A society imperils its own future when, out of negligence or contempt, it overlooks the need of children to be reared in a family ... or when, in the midst of plenty, some families cannot give their children adequate food and shelter, safe activity and rest, and an opportunity to grow into full adulthood as people who can care for and cherish other human beings like themselves.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • ... the experience of having brothers and sisters, born of the same parents, sleeping under the same roof, eating at the same table, is an inescapable, delightful and repelling, desired and abhorred part of each child's life.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • Grandparents are given a second chance to enjoy parenthood with fewer of its tribulations and anxieties.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • Through a grandmother's voice and hands the end of life is known at the beginning.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • Between friends there is no bribery. ... the relationship of friends is intrinsically fair and equal. Neither feels stronger or more clever or more beautiful than the other.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family ()
  • I do not believe in using women in combat, because females are too fierce.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Quote ()
  • No one will live all his life in the world into which he was born and no one will die in the world in which he worked in his maturity.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Vital Speeches ()
  • The prophet who fails to present a bearable alternative and yet preaches doom is part of the trap that he postulates.

  • ... there are now no elders who know more than the young themselves about what the young are experiencing.

  • ... the people of one nation alone cannot save their own children; each holds the responsibility for the others' children.

  • ... human beings seem to hold on more tenaciously to a cultural identity that is learned through suffering than to one that has been acquired through pleasure and delight.

  • ... as long as any adult thinks that he, like the parents and teachers of old, can become introspective, invoke his own youth to understand the youth before him, then he is lost.

  • Even very recently, the elders could say: 'You know, I have been young and you never have been old.' But today's young people can reply: 'You never have been young in the world I am young in, and you never can be.' ... the older generation will never see repeated in the lives of young people their own unprecedented experience of sequentially emerging change. This break between generations is wholly new: it is planetary and universal.

  • ... man's most human characteristic is not his ability to learn, which he shares with many other species, but his ability to teach and store what others have developed and taught him.

  • It is typical, in America, that a person's hometown is not the place where he is living now but is the place he left behind.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux, A Way of Seeing ()
  • Mourning has become unfashionable in the United States. The bereaved are supposed to pull themselves together as quickly as possible and to reweave the torn fabric of life. ... we do not allow ... for the weeks and months during which a loss is realized — a beautiful word that suggests the transmutation of the strange into something that is one's own.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux, A Way of Seeing ()
  • Love is the invention of a few high cultures, independent, in a sense of marriage — although society can make it a requisite for marriage, as we periodically attempt to do ... To make love the requirement of a lifelong marriage is exceedingly difficult, and only a few people can achieve it. I don't believe in setting up universal standards that a large proportion of people can't reach.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in New York Times Magazine ()
  • It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • ... people feel so strongly in this country that you ought to be able to fix at once anything that goes wrong. Press a button and something happens. Then they try to manage our political system or our economic system in the same way.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and James Baldwin, A Rap on Race ()
  • Cynicism is the other thing that goes with sentimentality ...

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and James Baldwin, A Rap on Race ()
  • Everybody's suffering is mine but not everybody's murdering ... I do not distinguish for one moment whether my child is in danger or a child in central Asia. But I will not accept responsibility for what other people do because I happen to belong to that nation or that race or that religion. I do not believe in guilt by association.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Margaret Mead and James Baldwin, A Rap on Race ()
  • Faith and architectural principles erected our great temples and cathedrals; faith and the human sciences are needed to erect a social order in which the children of our enemies will be protected as surely as our own children, so that all will be safe.

  • The anonymity of the city is one of its strengths as well as — carried too far — one of its weaknesses.

  • ... in all cultures, human beings — in order to be human — must understand the nonhuman.

  • Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.

  • Once any group in society stands in a relatively deprived position in relation to other groups, it is genuinely deprived.

  • ... the need to find meaning in the universe is as real as the need for trust and for love, for relations with other human beings.

  • I approached the idea of college with the expectation of taking part in an intellectual feast. ... In college, in some way that I devoutly believed in but could not explain, I expected to become a person.

  • ... I had no reason to doubt that brains were suitable for a woman.

  • ... most people prefer to carry out the kinds of experiments that allow the scientist to feel that he is in full control of the situation rather than surrendering himself to the situation, as one must in studying human beings as they actually live.

  • The closest friends I have made all through life have been people who also grew up close to a loved and loving grandmother or grandfather.

  • ... I suddenly realized that through no act of my own I had become biologically related to a new human being.

  • Blackberry winter, the time when the hoarfrost lies on the blackberry blossoms; without this frost the berries will not set. It is the forerunner of a rich harvest.

  • Sisters, while they are growing up, tend to be very rivalrous and as young mothers they are given to continual rivalrous comparisons of their several children. But once the children grow older, sisters draw closer together and often, in old age, they become each other's chosen and most happy companions. In addition to their shared memories of childhood and of their relationship to each other's children, they share memories of the same home, the same homemaking style, and the same small prejudices about housekeeping that carry the echoes of their mother's voice ...

  • Whatever advantages may have arisen, in the past, out of the existence of a specially favored and highly privileged aristocracy, it is clear to me that today no argument can stand that supports unequal opportunity or any intrinsic disqualification for sharing in the whole of life.

  • I discovered when I had a child of my own that I had become a biased observer of small children. Instead of looking at them with affectionate but nonpartisan eyes, I saw each of them as older or younger, bigger or smaller, more or less graceful, intelligent, or skilled than my own child.

  • No country that permits firearms to be widely and randomly distributed among its population — especially firearms that are capable of wounding and killing human beings — can expect to escape violence, and a great deal of violence.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • ... no society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • The contempt for law and the contempt for the human consequences of lawbreaking go from the bottom to the top of American society.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Claire Safran, "Impeachment?" Redbook ()
  • We are living beyond our means. As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of our children and people all around the world.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • "The Energy Crisis -- Why Our World Will Never Again Be the Same," in Redbook ()
  • The time has come, I think, when we must recognize bisexuality as a normal form of human behavior.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • I had my father's mind, but he had his mother's mind. Fortunately, his mother lived with us and so I early realized that intellectual abilities of the kind I shared with my father and grandmother were not sex-linked.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • ... we make our own criminals, and their crimes are congruent with the national culture we all share. It has been said that a people get the kind of political leadership they deserve. I think they also get the kinds of crime and criminals they themselves bring into being.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • ... I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Redbook ()
  • Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • "Mead's Maxim," in John Peers, ed., 1,001 Logical Laws ()
  • The way in which each human infant is transformed into the finished adult, into the complicated individual version of his city and his century is one of the most fascinating studies open to the curious minded.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1929, in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait ()
  • Injustice experienced in the flesh, in deeply wounded flesh, is the stuff out of which change explodes.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait ()
  • ... today's children are the first generation to grow up in a world that has the power to destroy itself.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1962, in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait ()
  • Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait ()
  • Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship. On the whole, sisters would rather live with each other than anyone else in their old age.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Elizabeth Fishel, Sisters: Love and Rivalry Inside the Family and Beyond ()
  • I think the important thing about sisters is that they share the same minute, familiar life-style, the same little sets of rules. Therefore they can keep house with each other late in life, because they share the same bunch of housewifely prejudices. The important thing about women today is, as they get older, they still keep house. It's one reason they don't die, but men die when they retire. Women just polish the teacups.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Elizabeth Fishel, Sisters: Love and Rivalry Inside the Family and Beyond ()
  • Having someone wonder where you are when you don't come home at night is a very old human need.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • speech (1975), in Michèle Brown and Ann O'Connor, Woman Talk, vol. 1 ()
  • Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn't burn up any fossil fuel, doesn't pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Jane Howard, Margaret Mead: A Life ()
  • We women are doing pretty well. We're almost back to where we were in the twenties.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1976, in Jane Howard, Margaret Mead: A Life ()
  • Manners, really good ones, make it possible to live with almost anyone, gracefully and pleasantly ...

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1926, in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • Contentment can be bought at a price that one can not possibly pay.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1938, in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • ... the assumption that men and woman are essentially alike in all respects, or even in the most important ones, is a damaging one, as damaging as the assumption that they are different in ways in which they aren't different, perhaps more so ...

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1938, in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • Loving you is just like breathing, as effortless, and as lovely.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • letter to Gregory Bateson (1934), in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • My darling — I am in one of my happiest kinds of moods about you, the kind of mood which makes me think that I probably dreamt about you, although I can't remember the dream, but I feel as if you had just gone around the corner to get some tobacco for your pipe, and might reappear at any moment and put your hand on my hair as you crossed the room ... It makes my hair particularly gay and curly just to think of it.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • letter to Gregory Bateson (1935), in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • To demand that another love what one loves is tyranny enough, but to demand that another hate what one hates, is even worse.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • letter to Gregory Bateson (1948), in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • I devoutly believe that there is no difficulty between two people for which both are not responsible.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1976, in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • Life is in one of its smoother phases ... I've no responsibilities in the world except friends and students and cherishing the life of the world — and the belief that there is enough love to go round.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • 1962, in Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis, eds., To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ()
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • in Nancy C. Lutkehaus, Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon ()
  • I am interested in what happens to people who find the whole of life so rewarding that they are able to move through it with the same kind of delight in which a child moves through a game.

    • Margaret Mead
  • You just have to learn not to care about the dust-mice under the beds.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Creationism: the theory that Rome was built in a day.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Throughout history, females have picked providers for mates. Males pick anything.

    • Margaret Mead
  • My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.

    • Margaret Mead
  • It used to be when we said, ''til death do us part,' death parted us pretty soon. That's why marriages used to last forever. Everybody was dead.

    • Margaret Mead
  • A woman, even a brilliant woman, must have two qualities in order to fulfill her promise: more energy than mere mortals, and the ability to outwit her culture.

    • Margaret Mead
  • If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghetto, you will gain a sense of continuity and a full life.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Instead of needing lots of children, we need high-quality children.

    • Margaret Mead
  • In almost any society, I think, the quality of the nonconformists is likely to be just as good as and no better than that of the conformists.

    • Margaret Mead
  • We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.

    • Margaret Mead
  • The most extraordinary thing about a really good teacher is that he or she transcends accepted educational methods. Such methods are designed to help average teachers approximate the performance of good teachers.

    • Margaret Mead
  • We won't have a society if we destroy the environment.

    • Margaret Mead
  • For the very first time the young are seeing history being made before it is censored by their elders.

    • Margaret Mead
  • The United States has the power to destroy the world, but not the power to save it alone.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Parents feel like immigrants in the country of the young.

    • Margaret Mead
  • No matter how many communes anybody invents, the family always creeps back.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Pigs and cows and chickens and people are all competing for grain.

    • Margaret Mead
  • I've heard him [Konrad Lorenz] say that you can appeal to human beings in the name of the thing they value most to do things that are terrible. One of the traps of idealism and patriotism is this appeal.

    • Margaret Mead
  • We need to devise a system within which peace will be more rewarding than war.

    • Margaret Mead
  • When I stand on a street in a Canadian city and look across the street, it couldn't be anywhere but Canada, but how can I prove it?

    • Margaret Mead
  • Jealousy is not a barometer by which the depth of love can be read. It merely records the degree of the lover's insecurity.

    • Margaret Mead
  • I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings.

    • Margaret Mead
  • Of course we need children! Adults need children in their lives to listen to and care for, to keep their imagination fresh and their hearts young and to make the future a reality for which they are willing to work.

    • Margaret Mead
  • What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.

    • Margaret Mead
  • In the modern world we have invented ways of speeding up invention, and people's lives change so fast that a person is born into one kind of world, grows up in another, and by the time his children are growing up, lives in still a different world.

  • A mother is a biological necessity, a father a social invention.

    • Margaret Mead
  • I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had.

    • Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead, U.S. anthropologist, writer

(1901 - 1977)