The Burden of Genius

The announcement of the MacArthur Awards calls to mind an American friend’s story about winning one of these prizes. He was a visiting scholar at Oxford when he got the phone call from MacArthur. Absolutely thrilled, he left his office to go back to where he was living to tell his partner the great news. He glanced down the street and saw there was no traffic and then began to cross, forgetting that in the UK people drive on the left, not on the right.

He stepped right out in front of a speeding car which honked at him, and he had to dive back to the sidewalk to avoid getting run over. He was scraped and bruised but otherwise unhurt. He told me later drolly “Think of the great obituary”: ‘Genius’ failed to look both ways before crossing street

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

7 thoughts on “The Burden of Genius”

  1. A couple of weeks ago, that would have been me, except it was a bus, in London, and also I didn't just win a Genius award.

  2. Nearly happened to me here in the USA, and I failed to look at the bus driving on the right side of the street.

    Headline would have to have read, "Knucklehead failed to look both ways…"

  3. The wrong-way look is what led to the death of Deborah Howell, former ombudsman for the Washington Post in New Zealand.

  4. I once spent 3 months in New Zealand where, as a precaution, it seemed wise to not rent a car until it at least became habitual to look both ways before stepping into the street. Not only did that not become habitual, but it remained a shock to me to see a car that often seemed to have no driver or, worse yet, a small child driving.

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