Pay it forward…

…until it comes back?

情けは人の為ならず
(Nasake wa hito no tame narazu; “Compassion isn’t just for the sake of others”)

Definition:

Showing pity, mercy, or compassion for others isn’t just a favor you do to them; it’s for your own sake as well, because eventually what goes around comes around. Those who treat others with kindness benefit themselves as well. Be good to people, yo.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 情け (nasake), with meanings ranging from “affection” to “sympathy” to “mercy.” The particle は (wa) marks it as the topic of discussion, so what follows is a comment on such goodwill. Next we find 人 (hito), literally “person” but in this case indicating “other people.” The associative particle の (no) links 人 with 為 (tame), “benefit,” “purpose,” or “result.” Finally we close with the verb なる (naru), “to become,” which in older Japanese was often used as a copula. Here it appears in imperfective form with the negative suffix ず (zu) in sentence-final form.

Notes:

The meaning of this saying seems to be shifting a bit, losing the idea that kindness benefits everyone rather than just the person showing it, and moving toward kindness being “not for the sake of others” – i.e. it’s simply for your own sake that you should practice compassion and allow yourself to feel affection. A fine distinction, perhaps, but it’s worth keeping in mind that usage and nuance have shifted over time.

Example sentence:

「山田くんが明日の試験がヤバいから今日のバイトを休みたいって言ってたから代わってあげようと思ってるんだー。情けは人の為ならず、って言うし、いつか私も困った時には誰かに助けてもらうことあるだろうしさ。」

(“Yamada-kun ga ashita no shiken ga yabai kara kyou no baito wo yasumitai tte itteta kara kawatte ageyou to omoun da. Nasake wa hito no tame narazu, tte iu shi, itsuka watashi mo komatta toki ni wa dare ka ni tasukete morau koto aru darou shi sa.”)

[“Yamada-kun’s in real trouble over the test tomorrow, so he was saying he wanted to take the day off work today. So I’m thinking of taking over his shift. They say that what goes around comes around, so maybe some time when I’m in trouble somebody will help me, see.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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