This is Water (David Foster Wallace)

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David Foster Wallace is an author who tragically passed away in 2008 when he committed suicide. However, before he passed away, he gave a very famous and memorable graduation speech at Kenyon College. The speech was called “This is Water”, and you can listen to the full version here on YouTube, or read the full transcript at this link.

“This is Water” is also a book written by David Foster Wallace, but I have not read it yet.

The “This is Water” speech is a great reminder about life; in the speech, Wallace talks about how everything we perceive in life is from our own perspective. While we can try to look at things from other people’s point of view, the way we experience in events is our own personal view, and that “there is no experience that you have had that you are not the absolute center of”. While it may seem obvious when you hear it, this is one of the reasons why everything seems more real and urgent when it deals with yourself.

Foster Wallace talks about how we can use this knowledge to our advantage; instead of simply letting the world pass us by, we can consciously choose what we want to perceive. As an example from daily life, instead of going to the grocery store and automatically being angry about the crowded aisles and long checkout lines, you can choose to “consider the likelihood that everyone else is in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as [you] are, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than [you] do.” Basically, rather than giving into your natural instincts to feel angry, you can learn to pay attention to the world around you, and know it is within your power to change the way you perceive a situation.

Foster Wallace gave this advice because he was trying to describe the benefits he thought a college education brings to students, in that “you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship”.

While these are things that we may hear on a typical basis, it does not hurt to hear them again. Also, Foster Wallace has much more wisdom to share in his 20 minute speech, and I highly recommend you listen to the rest!


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