We Take What We Want

“Most of us take from books and articles that which we need, or want, leaving the rest, often including the author’s intentions, behind.”

From “Paul Goodman in Retrospect” by Joseph Epstein (1978)

We take what we want, that’s for sure. I’m guilty. Sometimes I don’t even know it until I’m quoting and explaining something from a book I read and the person I’m talking to tells me that it’s not what the author meant. We all have an agenda in our minds, our backgrounds, opinions, and personalities help us interpret what we see and read. If we know something about the author of the book, we have a better chance at interpreting what they meant, but usually we’re going into reading things one-sided.

Recently, I learned that George Orwell was a Socialist until his dying day and that Animal Farm was not condemning socialism at all (like I grew up believing) but remarking on how good socialism was hijacked by power hungry monsters.

I wonder how many things are misinterpreted or used to support one person’s argument when the whole text doesn’t support it. Scripture from various religions is often used that way. Statistics and research reports, as well.

I often worry that quotes I post from the books I read may be interpreted opposite of why I shared them in the first place. I can’t stand politics and sometimes I post things and think…is someone going to read this and use it to support some asinine law or tax?! Or what if they think I support something that I don’t? But that’s the thing about creating and putting your thoughts out into the world. Once it leaves your mind, it goes out into the world and starts a life of its own.

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