It feels like I should have already heard the David Foster Wallace commencement speech titled This is Water.
I had heard of it before but never listened. I heard it mentioned in a podcast that I recently blogged about. I finally discovered it on Huffduffer and threw it into my own custom podcast feed on that very site.
No amount of quoting it will do it any justice. It’s not long. It should, I dare say must be taken in all at once. But…
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations…
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing…
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.
There’s that word again. Freedom.
This also makes me think about sonder.
I somewhat sheepishly cross-post this to 200wad, it being mostly quoted. I'm also a little embarrassed that I didn't listen to or read this in the last 13 years. But I also believe that some words come to you at just the right time, when you are most able to receive them. So there's that.