Margaret Mead


American Cultural Anthropologist and Psychologist

Author Quotes

I asked the little white boys which they would rather be, little white girls or little Negro boys. What do you think they said? ? They said they would rather be little Negro boys.

It always takes two generations to really lose something, but in two generations you can lose it.. The culture in this country that is ? most limited, is that of the second and third generations away from Europe. They have lost what they had and aren?t ready to take on anything else. They are scared to death and so busy being American? What we have in this country at present is a very large number of second- and third-generation Europeans who aren?t really sure they?re here? Fifteen years ago, if I gave a test to people to fill in: ?I am an American, not a _____,? most people would say ?foreigner,? and a few said ?Communist.? Now, they say ?not a Russian,? ?not an Italian,? ?not an Irishman,? ?not a Pole?: over twenty different things.

The white world ? [has] built its dignity and built its sense of identity on the fact it wasn?t black, the way males in this country built their sense of superiority over the fact that they are not female.

We?re sort of monglers, I was taught to say as a child. Monglers is a Pennsylvania dialect word for a dog of mixed background.

You see, I think we have to get rid of people being proud of their ancestors, because after all they didn?t do a thing about it. What right have I to be proud of my grandfather? I can be proud of my child if I didn?t ruin her, but nobody has any right to be proud of his ancestors? The one thing you really ought to be allowed to do is to choose your ancestors... We have a term for this in anthropology: mythical ancestors? They are spiritual and mental ancestors, they?re not biological ancestors, but they are terribly important.

It [this book] is, very simply, an account of how three primitive societies have grouped their social attitudes towards temperament about the very obvious facts of sex-difference.

No skill, no special aptitude, no vividness of imagination or precision of thinking would go unrecognized because the child who possessed it was of one sex rather than the other. No child would be relentlessly shaped to one pattern of behavior, but instead there should be many patterns, in a world that had learned to allow to each individual the pattern which was most congenial to his gifts.

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.

The Samoan puts the burden of amatory success upon the man and believes that women need more initiating, more time for maturing of sexual feeling. A man who fails to satisfy a woman is looked upon as a clumsy, inept blunderer.

Today, as we are coming to understand better the circular processes through which culture is developed and transmitted, we recognize that 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. Learning, which is based on human dependency, is relatively simple. But human capacities for creating elaborate teachable systems, for understanding and utilizing the resources of the natural world, and for governing society and creating and creating imaginary worlds all these are very complex. In the past, men relied on the least elaborate part of the circular system, the dependent learning by children, for continuity of transmission and for the embodiment of the new. Now, with our greater understanding of the process, we must cultivate the most flexible and complex part of the system; the behavior of adults. We must, in fact, teach ourselves how to alter adult behavior so that we can give up post-figurative upbringing, with its tolerated configurative components, and discover prefigurative ways of teaching and learning. We must create new models for adults who can teach their children not what to learn but how to learn and not what they should be committed to, but the value of commitment.

You just have to learn not to care about the dust mites under the beds.

It has been a woman's task throughout history to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope. lf we are united, we may be able to produce a world in which our children and other people's children will be safe.

No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology to mastery, to waste, to exuberance, to exploration and exploitation. We have to learn to cherish this earth and cherish it as something that's fragile, that's only one, it's all we have. We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology.

Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire.

The semi-metaphysical problems of the individual and society, of egoism and altruism, of freedom and determinism, either disappear or remain in the form of different phases in the organization of a consciousness that is fundamentally social.

We ? mankind ? stand at the center of an evolutionary crisis, with a new evolutionary device ? our consciousness of the crisis ? as our unique contribution.

You know you love someone when you cannot put into words how they make you feel.

It is not until science has become a discipline to which the research ability of any mind from any class in society can be attracted that it can become rigorously scientific

No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded.

Standardized personality differences between the sexes are of this order, cultural creations to which each generation, male and female, is trained to conform.

The student of culture is concerned with a characteristic which man displays more markedly than any other known creature ? the ability to transmit what he has learned. In following the procedure I suggest, the learning of Homo sapiens would be treated as a further specialization of the concept of grades, with the recognition that in some species ? possibly even in some orders ? the ability to learn may represent not only an improvement, in an evolutionary sense, but also an increase in vulnerability. Man's unique, high ability to learn, coupled as it is with a small amount of built-in behavior, represents such a vulnerability.

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.

Young people are moving away from feeling guilty about sleeping with somebody to feeling guilty if they are ?not? sleeping with someone.

It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.

Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.

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American Cultural Anthropologist and Psychologist