Non ergo fortuna homines aestimabo sed moribus; sibi quisque dat mores, condicionem casus assignat.
(Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11.10)

pron = nohn EHR-goh fohr-TOO-nah HOH-mih-nays ai-stee-MAH-boh sehd MOHR-ih-boos SIH-bee KWIS-kway daht MOH-rays kohn-dih-kee-OH-nem KAH-soos ahs-SIHG-naht.

Therefore, I will not evaluate people by their fortune in life, but by the way they act; each one crafts for him or herself ways of behaving in the world; chance assigns to each his or her condition.

Comment: Perhaps at first glance this proverb gives credence to separating a person's behavior from his or her condition in life. It certainly articulates why they should be viewed differently. The condition a person is born into is not his or her own choosing. A person's parents and their choices and behaviors are not his or her own choosing. How teachers and other adults treat a child is not the child's own choosing.

So, how a child "learns" to react to those things which he or she has no control over is not about choice either.

We who work with other human beings could do well to keep this in mind. The most humbling reality that I face each day (and too many days, I forget this) is that I have no idea what kind of world, what kind of treatment, what kind of life my students are walking into my room from each day. My first words to him or her may be the first act of kindness they have met in the last 24 hours. Or, it may be just another act of brutality, even if to me, it seems like "demanding student responsibility".

The older I get, the less freedom I think we really have as human beings--until we get clear about the forces that shaped us early in life. Only then can we begin to "give to ourselves ways of behaving in the world". Up until we get clear about who and what shaped us as children, our ways of being in the world are merely ways of surviving what was done to us, however mild or severe.

Character, finally, is not an image we craft for ourselves. It is nothing less than excavating our own lives and finding out what lies layers deep beneath us. Then, we begin to make choices; then we begin to take baby steps in freedom.

Bob Patrick
(Used with permission)
Latin Proverb of the Day Archive