Hannah Arendt and Romola Garai on Solitude and “the best possible version of yourself”

Romola Garai in The Hour (BBC 2011)

“It’s too simplistic to say that people start to believe what’s written about them. But what happens is that you become a certain way to please people, to be liked, to be what’s expected of you, to change yourself so that you become the best possible version of yourself for people who don’t know you. And I think that’s a terrible, pernicious thing.”

– Romola Garai


Hannah Arendt in a classroom at Wesleyan University.

“Thinking and remembering, we said, is the human way of striking roots, of taking one’s place in the world into which we all arrive as strangers. What we usually call a person or a personality, as distinguished from a mere human being or a nobody, actually grows out of this root-striking process of thinking. In this sense, I said it is almost a redundancy to speak of moral personality; a person, to be sure, can still be good-natured or ill-natured, his inclinations can be generous or stingy, he may be aggressive or compliant, open or secretive; he may be given to all sorts of vices just as he may be born intelligent or stupid, beautiful or ugly, friendly or rather unkind.All this has little to do with matters which concern us here. If he is a thinking being, rooted in his thoughts and remembrances, and hence knowing that he has to live with himself, there will be limits to what he can permit himself to do, and these limits will not be imposed on from the outside, but will be self-set. These limits can change considerably and uncomfortably from person to person, from country to country, from century to century; but limitless, extreme evil is possible only where these self-grown roots, which automatically limit the possibilities, are entirely absent. They are absent where men skid only over the surface of events, where they permit themselves to be carried away without ever penetrating into whatever depth they may be capable of. This depth, of course, changes again from person to person, from century to century, in its specific quality as well as its dimensions. Socrates believed that by teaching people how to think, how to talk with themselves, as distinct from the orator’s art of how to persuade and from the wise man’s ambition of teaching what to think and how to learn, he would improve his fellow citizens; but if we accept this assumption and then ask him what the sanctions would be for that famous crime hidden from the eyes of gods and men, he could have answered only by saying: the loss of this capacity, the loss of solitude, and as I tried to illustrate, with the loss of creativity – in other words, the loss of the self that constitutes the person.”


– Hannah Arendt, “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy” in Responsibility and Judgement (New York, 2003)

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