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anatomy of a word: 忍

The Chinese character 忍 is often translated as ‘to endure.’

Like other cross language translations however, it does not cover the full scope of the word. Nor does it capture the deeper aspects of this beautiful language I’ve grown up with, and am only now beginning to realize its poetry.

‘To endure’ feels like an oversimplification of the word.

忍 (rěn) also means: to bear, to tolerate, to have patience.

To restrain oneself.

Like other words in my language, the character 忍 can be broken down into simpler characters to comprise a whole.

The ‘刀‘ on the top stands for ‘knife.’
The ‘心‘ on the bottom means ‘heart’, or ‘soul’.

Combined together, it symbolizes the endurance of suffering. To withstand the pain and suffering of a knife to the heart.

While there are many things I appreciate and value in my heritage, this is one of the few I do not.

This word appeared too frequently in day to day language for my liking. Growing up, phrases related to this word were used far too often.

My parents had no choice but to endure the hardships of immigration, stereotypes, “bamboo ceilings,” and escaping poverty. I’ve also grown up learning to grit my teeth.

To tolerate, suppress, and bear negative emotions or challenges.

To 忍.

忍 (rěn) is spelled phonetically the same as the character from an earlier essay, 仁 (rén).

仁 (rén) stands for compassion, kindness, humanity.
忍 (rěn) stands for tolerance, patience, endurance.

It’s funny how two words spelled exactly the same can carry such different meanings. I cannot help but feel these two concepts are interrelated.

Maybe having these two juxtaposing characters side by side was intentional by design.

Filed under: Atomic

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INTJ. Startups. Infinitely Curious

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