The Chinese character 忍 (rěn) is a pictophonetic character—one formed by combining a component that indicates the meaning with a component that indicates the sound.
忍 means to forbear, endure, or tolerate. It also contains the connotation of self-restraint and self-control. It is composed of the character for “heart,” 心 (xīn), on the bottom, which carries the meaning, and the character 刃 (rèn) on top, which provides the pronunciation.
刃, referring to the blade of a knife or the edge of a blade, also contributes to the meaning of the character 忍.
That is, 忍, meaning forbearance, is formed by placing a “knife” over the “heart,” as if implying that this quality is not easily achieved by ordinary people but requires a higher level of cultivation, discipline, and will.
Why should one forbear? What are the positive outcomes of forbearing?
The ancient Chinese “Words of Admonition Concerning Forbearance (Author Anonymous)” (無名氏忍箴) states: “If the wealthy can forbear, they will preserve their family and ancestry. If the poor can forbear, they will be free from humiliation and disgrace.
“If father and son can forbear, they will treat one another with filial piety and parental kindness. If brothers can forbear, they will treat each other with righteousness and sincerity.
“If friends can forbear, their friendship will be long-lasting. If husband and wife can forbear, their relationship will be harmonious.
“In the middle of a tribulation, one who forbears may be ridiculed and laughed at by others. However, once the tribulation has been overcome, those who ridiculed and laughed will be ashamed and humbled.”
In traditional Chinese culture, numerous inspiring words and stories concerning forbearance have been recorded in history books and chronicles over thousands of years.
The ancient virtuous sages took great pains to teach people to be tolerant, patient, and forgiving (忍讓寬恕, rěn ràng kuān shù) and to be able to endure humiliation and forbear great responsibilities (忍辱負重, rěn rǔ fù zhòng), thus creating a rich and precious “culture of forbearance” (忍文化, rěn wén huà).