Quotes and references about seeing a person clearly (or not)?
January 1, 2017 6:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for quotes that refer to the idea of perceiving another person-- either perceiving a person clearly and correctly or perceiving a person incorrectly. Bonus points for quotes that are literary.

Snippets of poems or stories, or songs, or other texts all welcome.
posted by Mystical Listicle to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
From "The Little Prince" (translations may vary):
'One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.'
posted by Jeanne at 6:09 PM on January 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maya Angelou said this, I think in an interview with Oprah, but I am lazy right now.

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:28 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader's mind. No matter how many times we reopen "King Lear," never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert's father's timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.
— Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
posted by Lorin at 6:28 PM on January 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

"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, American Pastoral
posted by moons in june at 6:33 PM on January 1, 2017

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is full of these. One of the book's themes is how little we know each other, even in the binds of intimacy. From the quotes on Goodreads:

“For Sabina, living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies.”

“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under . . . The fourth category, the rarest, is the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.”
posted by ramenopres at 6:49 PM on January 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've always been fond of the poem by Robert Burns, 'To A Louse', which ends:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!
posted by bq at 7:16 PM on January 1, 2017

"We lead more interesting lives than we think. We are characters in plots, without the compression and numinous sheen. Our lives, examined carefully in all their affinities and links, abound with suggestive meaning, with themes and involute turnings we have not allowed ourselves to see completely."
—Don DeLillo, Libra:
posted by Lorin at 7:26 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

“It doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you.”

Neil Young
posted by ITravelMontana at 8:55 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

The very first time you meet someone you know all about him, and from that point on you gradually erase these correct impressions.

Nietzsche (paraphrased, from Yalom)
posted by Bron at 8:56 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another DeLillo quote, this from White Noise:
Love helps us develop an identity secure enough to allow itself to be placed in another’s care and protection.

Although that line typically is quoted alone, I think it's worth including the entire paragraph, which more fully explains the idea that the people we love are the keepers of our identity—a comforting thought for those times we feel totally, completely lost.
Babette and I tell each other everything. I have told everything, such as it was at the time, to each of my wives. There is more to tell, of course, as marriages accumulate. But when I say I believe in complete disclosure I don't mean it cheaply, as anecdotal sport or shallow revelation. It is a form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust. Love helps us develop an identity secure enough to allow itself to be placed in another’s care and protection. Babett and I have turned our lives for each other’s thoughtful regard, turned them in the moonlight in our pale hands, spoken deep into the night about fathers and mothers, childhood, friendships, awakenings, old loves, old fears (except fear of death). No detail must be left out, not even a dog with ticks or a neighbor's boy who ate an insect on a dare. The smell of pantries, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin, things as facts and passions, the feel of pain, loss, disappointment, breathless delight. In these night recitations we create a space between things as we felt them at the time and as we speak them now. This is the place reserved for irony, sympathy, and fond amusement, the means by which we rescue ourselves from the past.
posted by she's not there at 9:44 PM on January 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

"Hell is other people" - Sartre.
posted by jamjam at 10:18 PM on January 1, 2017

"Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate"

(500) days of summer
posted by jitterbug perfume at 12:35 AM on January 2, 2017

"If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you're the asshole."

(I don't know where I read this but it's helped me keep my perspective with a few people.
Google says it's from the Raylan Givens character in Justified (which I haven't seen) so I'm hoping it's originally from Elmore Leonard....but probably not: Google Trend Link )
posted by Spumante at 1:00 AM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

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