Margaret Mead Quotes

Margaret Mead with children
Margaret Mead with children of Manus Island, circa 1930s. Fotosearch/Getty Images

Margaret Mead was an anthropologist known for her work on the relationship of culture and personality. Mead's early work stressed the cultural basis of gender roles while later she wrote about the biological influence on male and female behaviors, too. She became a prominent lecturer and writer on family and child-rearing issues.

Margaret Mead's research—especially her work in Samoa—has come under more recent criticism for inaccuracies and naivete, but she remains a pioneer in the field of anthropology. These quotes demonstrate her work in this field and offer some observations and motivation.

Selected Margaret Mead Quotations

• Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

• I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.

• I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world.

• If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter.

• It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.

• Life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time.

• What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.

• Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.

• I learned the value of hard work by working hard.

• Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire.

• The way to do fieldwork is never to come up for air until it is all over.

• The ability to learn is older—as it is also more widespread—than is the ability to teach.

• We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.

• I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples—faraway peoples—so that Americans might better understand themselves.

• A city must be a place where groups of women and men are seeking and developing the highest things they know.

• Our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited.

• Man's most human characteristic is not his ability to learn, which he shares with many other species, but his ability to teach and store what others have developed and taught him.

• The negative cautions of science are never popular. If the experimentalist would not commit himself, the social philosopher, the preacher, and the pedagogue tried the harder to give a short-cut answer.

• In 1976: We women are doing pretty well. We're almost back to where we were in the twenties.

• I had no reason to doubt that brains were suitable for a woman. And as I had my father's kind of mind—which was also his mother's—I learned that the mind is not sex-typed.

• Differences in sex as they are known today ... are based on the bringing up of the mother. She is always pushing the female towards similarity and the male towards differences.

• There is no evidence that suggests women are naturally better at caring for children ... with the fact of child-bearing out of the center of attention, there is even more reason for treating girls first as human beings, then as women.

• It has been a woman's task throughout history to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope.

• Because of their age-long training in human relations—for that is what feminine intuition really is—women have a special contribution to make to any group enterprise.

• Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.

• The male form of a female liberationist is a male liberationist—a man who realizes the unfairness of having to work all his life to support a wife and children so that someday his widow may live in comfort, a man who points out that commuting to a job he doesn't like is just as oppressive as his wife's imprisonment in a suburb, a man who rejects his exclusion, by society and most women, from participation in childbirth and the most engrossing, delightful care of young children— a man, in fact, who wants to relate himself to people and the world around him as a person.

• Women want mediocre men, and men are working to become as mediocre as possible.

• Mothers are a biological necessity; fathers are a social invention.

• Fathers are biological necessities, but social accidents.

• Man's role is uncertain, undefined, and perhaps unnecessary.

• I think extreme heterosexuality is a perversion.

• No matter how many communes anybody invents, the family always creeps back.

• One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night.

• Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation.

• We have got to face the fact that marriage is a terminable institution.

• Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.

• Any woman can find a husband unless she is deaf, dumb or blind ... [S]he cannot always marry the ideal man of her choice.

• And when our baby stirs and struggles to be born it compels humility: what we began is now its own.

• The pains of childbirth were altogether different from the enveloping effects of other kinds of pain. These were pains one could follow with one’s mind.

• You just have to learn not to care about the dust mites under the beds.

• Instead of needing lots of children, we need high-quality children.

• The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today.

• Thanks to television, for the first time the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders.

• As long as any adult thinks that he, like the parents and teachers of old, can become introspective, invoking his own youth to understand the youth before him, he is lost.

• If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.

• Old age is like flying through a storm. Once you're aboard, there's nothing you can do.

• All of us who grew up before the war are immigrants in time, immigrants from an earlier world, living in an age essentially different from anything we knew before. The young are at home here. Their eyes have always seen satellites in the sky. They have never known a world in which war did not mean annihilation.

• If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.

• Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

• We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the legal structure of their country.

• The liberals have not softened their view of actuality to make themselves live closer to the dream, but instead sharpen their perceptions and fight to make the dream actuality or give up the battle in despair.

• The contempt for law and the contempt for the human consequences of lawbreaking go from the bottom to the top of American society.

• We are living beyond our means. As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of our children and people all around the world.

• We won't have a society if we destroy the environment.

• Having two bathrooms ruined the capacity to co-operate.

• Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn't burn up any fossil fuel, doesn't pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.

• As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.

• The study of human culture is a context within which every aspect of human life legitimately falls and necessitates no rift between work and play, professional and amateur activities.

• I have always done a woman's job.

• Her motto: Be lazy, go crazy.

Quotes About Margaret Mead

• To cherish the life of the world. Source: Epitaph on her gravestone

• Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, good manners, and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways. Source: Franz Boaz, Mead's academic advisor, wrote this of her book Coming of Age in Samoa

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Margaret Mead Quotes." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Margaret Mead Quotes. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Margaret Mead Quotes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).