When I saw the video and read the book “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace, it opened my eyes to how I live my life as an adult in the world. It was a wake up call that you are not the only one. The speech is also about recognition and action. It is about recognizing that we are not the center of all creation and how we can evolve into thinking and acting in a way that is mindful and compassionate to all people.
I first heard about this book I was in a workshop with the brilliant and compassionate, Kathryn Budig. Kathryn talked about how this book is one of her bed side table books that serves as a reminder about how to go about life. The book is a simple reality check. When I got home from her workshop, I watched the video and ordered the book off of Amazon. I saw how the speech related directly to me, and how this was my same mindset. It was a rude awakening.
David Foster Wallace is giving a commencement speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College. The speech delivered the reality of how a “adulting” goes. The message is that paying attention and being mindful of others is essential. Wallace’s speech also talked about decision making and the power of choice. Wallace’s speech talked about changing a person’s perspective and attitude on others around them. The way a person thinks can have the biggest difference in their life. The way that you think not only impacts your life but all the people around you.
As people, we lean towards the notion that our own ideas are superior to that of others, so we choose not to listen, and instead keep talking. We are glued to the idea that our ideas are the best and brightest and do not allow space for the idea that there might be another way. This makes us a prisoner of the brain, the simple fact that we cannot even escape our mind. Wallace explains this by saying, “blind certainty, a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up”. Learning how to think is a difficult task. It is not impossible, just difficult and quite uncomfortable. If we are able to teach ourselves how to think, we would become a bit less egotistical, and be more aware and alert about the activities around us.
After we stop thinking that we are the main importance, that everything revolves around us and we are the “absolute center of the universe,” we can then notice and appreciate the beauty in others around us. This ability to see outside of ourselves is the first step to being compassionate to ourselves and to those around us.
Being aware of your community and surrounding is a part of learning how to think. Wallace explains the concept a person’s “ default setting’. After a long, frustrated day, a person becomes tired and stressed. This, according to Wallace, is when the brain automatically switches to its natural default setting and just wants the day over with. If a person knows what to think, they would be aware— aware of others and that they might be experiencing tougher times. The acting to choose can help think about others. As Wallace says, stepping away from one’s ‘natural default setting’ can help them notice that people are not just in their way. When a person pays attention, they can consider options, and choose to look at things differently. After all, “that is real freedom… being educated, and understanding how to think”.
The speech reminds me of the George Swindoll quote ““We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
We have control of our actions, as well as what we think. We all have free will to choose. It is truly up to us to what path we go down. It only depends on if we choose to think and have an option. This was the quote from the book that had the deepest impact on me. It is piece I will leave you to sit with.
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention,and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.” David Foster Wallace