(Hito no furi mite waga furi naose;
“Observe the behavior of others; correct your own”)
An admonition to grow and improve by observing those around you. When you see good behavior, you should copy it; when you see bad behavior, you should work to root it out of your own doings.
We begin with the noun 人 (hito). Nominally this means “person,” but in cases such as this, by extension it means “others.” Next we have the verb 振る (furu), literally “to shake [something],” but in this case meaning “to behave [in a certain way].” This verb appears in conjunctive form and acts as a noun, which allows the associative particle の (no) to attach it to the previous noun 人. Next a particle is elided, and then we have the verb 見る (miru) “to look,” “to see.” This is also in conjunctive form, which connects us to the following phrase.
In the second phrase we again see the conjunctive form of 振る acting as a noun, followed (with object marker elided) by the verb 直す (naosu), “to correct,” “to repair,” in imperative form. These are preceded by a little bit of frozen grammar that, hard as it is to believe, we don’t seem to have encountered before on this blog: 我が (wa ga) is the first-person signifier 我 (wa, but note that these days on its own it’s more likely to be pronounced ware) plus particle が (ga), which actually serves the same function as modern の. (In other words, 我が is the same as 私の, but sounds more old-fashioned and poetic.)
See also 他山の石以て玉を攻むべし and 反面教師 for phrases that focus on learning from and avoiding the bad traits of others.
Supposedly this saying comes to us from the Analects of Confucius (Japanese 『論語』= Rongo).
振り survives today as a suffix to other verbs that implies “acting as if ~,” e.g. 知らん振り (shiranpuri), “pretending not to know [something].” What this saying phrases as 振り may show up as 振る舞い (furumai), which somehow preserves the meaning of “behavior” while adding a verb meaning “to dance.” Metaphor and human brains are weird.
(Hito no furi mite waga furi naose to iu imashime ga chokkan de wakatta no ka, ichiban shita no ko wa kyoudaitachi no suru koto wo yoku miteori, koukou wo sotsugyou suru made wa odoroku hodo otonashikatta sou desu.)
[“As if intuiting that one should learn from one’s fellows, the youngest child watched what the older brothers and sisters did, and it seems that, at least until graduating from high school, was surprisingly well-behaved.”]