Home > People > Getting People Right Is Not What Living Is All About Anyway. It’s Getting Them Wrong That Is Living. – Philip Roth

Getting People Right Is Not What Living Is All About Anyway. It’s Getting Them Wrong That Is Living. – Philip Roth

Image by hurleygurley via Flickr

Last week I met the CEO of a biotech company.  He spends much of his time trying to understand how our brains work.  In spite of decades of hard work, he admitted that scientists know very little about the dense grey matter packed into our skulls.  The exchange reminded me of a quote by Philip Roth that has stuck with me.  I share his words with you below to see what you think:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank.

You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.

— Philip Roth

Is living about getting people wrong? Surely we are always wrong about others, and, yet, this quote still seems jarring. What do you think?

Liza Sperling


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