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Ruth Benedict

  • From the moment of his birth, the customs into which [an individual] is born shape his experience and behavior. By the time he can talk, he is the little creature of his culture.

  • Society in its full sense ... is never an entity separable from the individuals who compose it. No individual can arrive even at the threshold of his potentialities without a culture in which he participates. Conversely, no civilization has in it any element which in the last analysis is not the contribution of an individual.

  • No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking.

  • The psychological consequences of this spread of white culture have been out of all proportion to the materialistic. This world-wide cultural diffusion has protected us as man had never been protected before from having to take seriously the civilizations of other peoples; it has given to our culture a massive universality that we have long ceased to account for historically, and which we read off rather as necessary and inevitable.

  • Most people are shaped to the form of their culture because of the enormous malleability of their original endowment. They are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born. It does not matter whether, with the Northwest Coast, it requires delusions of self-reference, or with our own civilization the amassing of possessions. In any case the great mass of individuals take quite readily the form that is presented to them.

  • If we justify war, it is because all peoples always justify the traits of which they find themselves possessed, not because war will bear an objective examination of its merits.

  • Modern existence has thrown many civilizations into close contact, and at the moment the overwhelming response to this situation is nationalism and racial snobbery. ... Contempt for the alien is not the only possible solution of our present contact of races and nationalities. It is not even a scientifically founded solution. Traditional Anglo-Saxon intolerance is a local and temporal culture-trait like any other. ... we have failed to understand the relativity of cultural habits, and we remain debarred from much profit and enjoyment in our human relations with people of different standards, and untrustworthy in our dealings with them.

  • Culture is not a biologically transmitted complex.

  • Racism is the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to congenital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital superiority.

  • Racism remains in the eyes of history ... merely another instance of the persecution of minorities for the advantage of those in power.

  • In world history, those who have helped to build the same culture are not necessarily of one race, and those of the same race have not all participated in one culture. In scientific language, culture is not a function of race.

  • The tough-minded ... respect difference. Their goal is a world made safe for differences, where the United States may be American to the hilt without threatening the peace of the world, and France may be France, and Japan may be Japan on the same conditions.

  • The happiest excitement in life is to be convinced that one is fighting for all one is worth on behalf of some clearly seen and deeply felt good, and against some greatly scorned evil.

  • It is strange how long we rebel against a platitude until suddenly in a different lingo it looms up again as the only verity.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1912, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • [Faith] is the virtue of the storm, just as happiness is the virtue of the sunshine.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1913, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • Our faith in the present dies out long before our faith in the future.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1913, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • We grow in time to trust the future for our answers.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1915, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • The trouble is not that we are never happy — it is that happiness is so episodical.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • I long to speak out about the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women. They have made of their lives an intense adventure ...

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • War is an old, old plant on this earth, and a natural history of it would have to tell us under what soil conditions it grows, where it plays havoc, and how it is eliminated.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1939, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • ... liberty is the one thing no man can have unless he grants it to others.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1942, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • The arrogance of race prejudice is an arrogance which defies what is scientifically known of human races.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1943, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • The crucial differences which distinguish human societies and human beings are not biological. They are cultural ...

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1943, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • No one culture has ever developed all human potentialities; it has always selected certain capacities, mental and emotional and moral, and stifled others. Each culture is a system of values which may well complement the values in another.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • 1943, in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • The largesse / Of all our love is a down-curving arc / That ends in sleeping, lest we rouse to mark / How all our fires go out in nothingness.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • "For the Hour After Love," in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict ()
  • The trouble with life isn't that there is no answer, it's that there are so many answers.

    • Ruth Benedict,
    • in Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict: A Humanist in Anthropology ()
  • Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination.

    • Ruth Benedict

Ruth Benedict, U.S. anthropologist, biographer

(1887 - 1948)

Full name: Ruth Fulton Benedict. Also wrote as Anne Singleton.