Chinese characters often represent noble concepts. What makes a good person? Our ancestors would have told us: anyone who has 德 (dé, or virtue).
So what is virtue 德? Well, Laozi, a Chinese sage best known for his studies on morals in the Dao De Jing, once said: “Whether or not a person is kind or mean to me, I’m always kind. Whether or not person is honest or dishonest to me, I’m always honest.”
This structure gives us a clue about the definition of 德. The left part “彳” refers to action; the right part has “心” (heart) at the bottom, as well as “直” (resolution)—which had as its root form an eye looking straight forward. Taken together, 德 stands for the quality of someone who is always honest and kindhearted in action and in thought.
You might still remember that in Chinese, words with similar sounds often have similar meanings, such as “德” (dé) for morals and “得” (dé) for getting or gaining. How are these two words related? A core Chinese belief was that people who lead good, moral lives will gain something back in their afterlife. Considering that, it’s probably time to start thinking a bit more about 德! How’s yours?