When I went to DC to visit my daughter, we happened upon this quote:

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are

As to the attribution, I wrote down in my planner Anais Nin. I even remember this quote being on the wall of the museum we were at, and I remember seeing Anais Nin up there on the wall as I argued about it with my daughter. But, when I googled it to make sure I had the quote right, it turns out that the quote originally was said by Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani. BTW, also can be attributed to an elocution professor at Harvard, a 1914 newspaper article, H.M. Tomlinson, and Steven Covey (quoteinvestigator.com) You can attribute the quote to whomever you wish…

So there’s your history lesson for the morning…

My daughter thinks this quote is “oppressive”. That this gives the person the fact to explain away their actions regarding any situation and gives them license to do whatever they want because they think it’s justified.

I think the quote is “accurate“. I think people bring their own baggage to every situation they encounter, and they can’t help but see the world as they do because it’s what they know.

I even argued with my daughter that my interpretation bares merit because we are both bringing ourselves into meaning of the quote…(FYI- when you have a pedantic argument about semantics with your daughter there should be a winner to the debate…)

What words would you use to describe this quote? What do you think about when you read it?

Why do you think the Renwick Gallery in DC would choose to attribute the quote to Nin as opposed to one of the other sources? Is this their own way of saying that they see the quote as they are?

Discuss any aspect of this that you choose:

69 thoughts on “We Don’t…

  1. I read this right after I read a Twitter thread about Wordle and confirmation bias. People swear Wordle is harder since NYT bought it but they are using the same words that would have been used without the purchase. If you tell them that many still believe it is harder.

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    1. My thought to that is how is it any harder, it’s only as hard as your general knowledge of some five-letter words go. The word from yesterday I have never used in my life but still managed to get it by fluke on the 6th try. Make em hard, gives me a chance to learn new words.

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  2. My first thought was this has elements in it that reminds me of the 4 blind men trying to describe an elephant..they were all limited by what they were grabbing (trunk, leg, tail, and ear). Each thought the other ones were???(fill in the blank). Could it be both you and her are right? And on a completely unrelated note, Been thinking about you, and wondering how your dad is doing? DM

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  3. I would say we see things through our “worldviews”, not who we “are”. However, our worldviews are part of our “baggage” as you call it. So I would agree with you. Your daughter is also right. Some worldviews are better than others. We can change those worldviews once we are aware of them. We need to make sure our worldviews accurately describe reality.

    I suspect the people at Renwick Gallery claimed Nin wrote that because their worldviews aligned with Nin more than the other possible sources. But why would they quote that at all? Are they trying to justify, as your daughter claimed, a kind of license to do whatever they want?

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    1. I don’t really know why they put the quote on the wall…but I was really flummoxed when I saw who actually said the quote first I did begin to wonder why attribute it to nin

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      1. She said it in a 1961 book, but oddly all those people I mentioned said it before her. The thing is, if a museum is taking the time to put a quote on the wall, wouldn’t they take the 30 seconds to do research? Or at least put the book title next to it to show awareness that different people have said it…

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  4. Not much to add. I agree that we’re looking at reality based on individual perception (which of course is influenced by multiple factors) which then may allow the individual to feel justified in whatever reaction they have. I see both your arguments as a continuation of a process, not necessary a stand alone statement

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  5. I agree with you 100 percent, but there’s a reason that a quote that is thousands of years old created by orthodox Rabbis in about 350BC is still debatable. First off, you have to understand that Rabbis debate everything. They sit for hours debating the Talmud and everything biblical. THAT is a way of life for Jewish religious scholars. Pondering existence etc. The discussions and intellectual discourse is a tradition going back centuries.

    You and I are over 50, therefore we carry years of extraordinary and valuable experiences with us and those experiences affect everything we do. Plus, we have a lot of them! Your daughter is young and her experiences are valid but are less in number than yours. We gain wisdom, fears, understanding etc. with everything that we experience over the years. Therefore, both of you will see the quote through your own “eyes”.
    I don’t agree with your daughter’s POV, I think it shows her inexperience and naivety. But hers is a view I probably would have had at her age. I remember debating with my father when I was in college. He often would open my eyes to his POV even though I considered his views not as progressive as I wanted. I wanted equality at all costs. He believed in equality but as a working man in the 1960’s he told me he couldn’t always follow his beliefs. He owned an apartment building back then and in South Florida schools weren’t even integrated until 1968 or 1969. So segregated apartments were the norm. Suddenly he was faced with renting to POC and his current tenants all threatened to move if he did. He wanted to but explained he couldn’t afford to pay for college for my brother and I if all his tenants left. I was furious with him at the time and didn’t understand why he just didn’t follow his heart and do what was right. Years later as a single parent supporting my child I understood why earning a living became more important to him than his principles. I wouldn’t have made his choices. But I understood why he did. Experience teaches us a lot!

    Your daughter is supposed to think like she does. And she will evolve as she ages like we did. Neither of you are wrong. However, I personally think you are right because experience gives us a leg up on wisdom quite often). But I remember how I thought when I was in college. And thank goodness young people aren’t held back by their limited experience. It drives them forward and usually is what creates progressive change.

    I find now that my children are in their 30’s and 40’s I can learn a lot from them because they bring to our discussions the current world. Things are different. And while my experiences are valuable, I see how their experiences have blossomed. The beautiful thing about youth is their inexperience. Lol But I do believe that age brings wisdom and yes, THAT is what we bring to the table. Our experiences.

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    1. Oh, and thank you LA for the history lesson. I very much appreciate that you took the time to actually research it. I love your thoroughness. I find it interesting that suddenly in recent times “they” give credit to people who use quotes from ancient times as being the originators. . Weird that today’s historians don’t seem to value history any more. That always makes me crazy. I’ll see quotes attributed to contemporary writers when I know full well that Shakespeare wrote it first. I find that some people throw away history as if it’s worthless. What’s that saying? Give credit where credit is due. Thanks for stating all the references. Obviously, the oldest one, in my opinion, is accurate. Besides the Rabbi was a pluralist so the quote follows his ideals , “ that there is not one consistent means of approaching truths about the world, but rather many”. But also, I remember being in a classroom preparing for my confirmation in Temple and discussing that quote. Rabbi Nachmani’s philosophies have been discussed for centuries since he’s considered a wise Talmudic scholar.

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      1. Yes…I’m flummoxed as to why a museum would paint something on a wall without checking…if they want to use it as a Nin quote that’s fine, but then put the book title with it so we know the why…how can a museum not check into that? And then you do need to wonder about the curation of the exhibit…

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  6. How sad, all the years I worked in DC and lived in the area I never visited so I had to Duck-Duck-Go the gallery. It is possible they chose the quote because the gallery is American art etc. thus it is about us Americans and how we see things. It is also possible they want the visitor to think about how they as visitors interrupt the art – I think the latter. I feel your daughter’s “oppressive” comment is incorrect. She should have said “reality” and it is the license for a lot of bad behavior by people.

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  7. I agree with you. The way a person sees something is “fact”, because very few change their way of thinking with a discussion. One shouldn’t use an opinion as an “excuse” for action. It should be a “reason” for that action. We’re really just playing with words, aren’t we? Now I’ll go back and read other comments.

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  8. I think it is self-evident that we bring our past experiences to our view of events, books, art, etc. It doesn’t mean that we can’t change, learn, and grow, but it does account for differences of opinions.

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  9. I have seen this quote before and I agree with you. I think it nails it. Doesn’t make it right but its true, people see what they want to see.

    On another note we saw “Death on the Nile”, just got home q little bit ago actually. We both really enjoyed it and would like to see another one of hers. Did you see the Orient Express one?

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  10. So interesting your different points of view. I think your daughter’s aligns with the black/white viewpoint that is common with young people whereas you see more of the gray. Given that your followers, like me, are in the same age range, it’s seems likely that we’ll mostly agree with you. But I wonder if you could poll your daughter’s friends – if they’d align the other way? Either way – interesting post!

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  11. We see everything from our particular standpoint, which includes socialization and conditioning based upon the specific contexts in which we were raised. I do not think it lends merit to justification. More it creates the possibility of understanding – that, in fact, knowing that everyone sees the world as they do, unique to them, and if we meet people where they are, compassionately, there is more chance for understanding in the world. Furthermore, people will always look for ways to defend and justify their position, it’s less about uniqueness. Actually, it’s paradoxically about sameness. We all have deep fears, which cause reactions, and defensiveness, etc. Okay, okay, I’ll stop here.

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  12. I agree that we all see everything through the lens of our own life experiences, where I disagree is that we can also choose to look through the lens of others, as well as our own. We all do the former naturally, without thought, but that doesn’t – and shouldn’t – stop us doing the latter as well.

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    1. But can we really look through the lens of another? I don’t know if my husband will ever really understand walking around as a woman…I mean…he can empathize a little, but really does he know?

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      1. It’s making the effort to do it that matters. We may never see *exactly* what another person sees, but if we can intuit even a small amount of their experience, we’re on a better path.

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  13. It’s about Perception. I think the quote is accurate and has nothing to do with oppression. Just as the Jewish leaders did not recognize their Messiah standing right in front of them because they were blinded by their own hypocrisy, but other people knew who He was and believed and received forgiveness of their sins.

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  14. The old adage about youth being wasted on the young can possibly be juxtaposed with the wisdom most of us acquire through our experiences as we age. Makes me wonder how the world would work if those situations were reversed. I like your daughter’s obstinate independent streak. I expect you’ll give her enough rope to hang herself and allow some slack for you to rescue her if/when need be. I did that with my girls so they learned a few lessons the hard way about the differences between how they and others view the world, thus gaining their own wisdom and perspectives.

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    1. I don’t rescue I console. If you rescue they don’t learn because they assume someone picks up the pieces. I know a lot of adults that still look to be rescued

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