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THIS IS WATER By David Foster Wallace

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There are these two young fish swimming along And they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way Who nods at them and says morning boys how's the water? And the two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually One of them looks over at the other and goes What the hell is water? The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious Important realities are often the ones that are hardest To see and talk about Stated as an english sentence of course is just a banal platitude But the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence Banal platitudes can have a life or death importance The plain fact is that you graduating seniors Do not yet have any clue What day in day out really means There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life That nobody talks about in commencement speeches One such part involves boredom routine and petty frustration The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about By way of example let's say it's an average adult day And you get up in the morning Go to your challenging white collar college graduate job And you work hard for eight or ten hours And at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed And all you want is to go home and have a good supper And maybe unwind for an hour and then hit the sack early Because of course you have to get up the next day and do it all again But then you remember there's no food at home You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job And so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad So getting to the store takes way longer than it should And when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded Because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs Also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping But you can't just get in and quickly out You have to wander all over the huge over lit store's confusing aisles To find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart Through all these other tired hurried people with carts Et cetera et cetera cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony And eventually you get all your supper supplies Except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open Even though it's the end of the day rush So the checkout line is incredibly long which is stupid and infuriating But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register Who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness Surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college But anyway you finally get to the checkout line's front And you pay for your food and you get told to Have a nice day In a voice that is the absolute voice of death Then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries In your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left All the way out through the crowded bumpy littery parking lot And then you have to drive all the way home through Slow heavy SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic et cetera et cetera Everyone here has done this of course But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates actual life routine Day after week after month after year But it will be And many more dreary annoying seemingly meaningless routines besides But that is not the point The point is that petty frustrating crap like this Is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines Give me time to think and if I don't make a conscious decision About how to think and what to pay attention to I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop Because my natural default setting is the certainty That situations like this are really all about me About my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home And it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are And how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed And nonhuman they seem in the checkout line Or at how annoying and rude it is that people Are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is 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 In this traffic all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way It's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's Have been in horrible auto accidents in the past And now find driving so terrifying that their therapist Has all but ordered them to get a huge heavy SUV So they can feel safe enough to drive Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood That everyone else in the supermarkets checkout line Is just as bored and frustrated as I am And that some of these people probably have much harder More tedious and painful lives than I do Again please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice Or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way Or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it Because it's hard It takes will and effort and if you are like me Some days you won't be able to do it Or you just flat out won't want to But most days if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice You can choose to look differently At this fat dead eyed over made up lady Who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line Maybe she's not usually like this Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer Or maybe this very lady is the low wage clerk At the motor vehicle department who just yesterday Helped your spouse resolve a horrific infuriating Red tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness Of course none of this is likely but it's also not impossible It just depends what you what to consider If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is And you are operating on your default setting Then you like me probably won't consider possibilities That aren't annoying and miserable But if you really learn how to think how to pay attention Then you will know there are other options It will actually be within your power to experience A crowded hot slow consumer hell type situation As not only meaningful but sacred On fire with the same force that made the stars Love fellowship the mystical oneness of all things deep down Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true The only thing that's capital T True Is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it This I submit is the freedom of a real education Of learning how to be well adjusted You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't 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 I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy Or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech Is supposed to sound What it is as far as I can see is the capital T Truth With a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away You are of course free to think of it whatever you wish But please don't just dismiss it as just some Finger wagging Doctor Laura sermon None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma Or big fancy questions of life after death The capital T Truth is about life before death It is about the real value of a real education Which has almost nothing to do with knowledge And everything to do with simple awareness Awareness of what is so real and essential So hidden in plain sight all around us all the time that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over This is water This is water

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 22 seconds
Year: 2005
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: The Glossary
Director: The Glossary
Views: 414,792
Posted by: sebekt on May 11, 2013

In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn't become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice we've ever come across, and perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education.
We made this video, built around an abridged version of the original audio recording, with the hopes that the core message of the speech could reach a wider audience who might not have otherwise been interested. However, we encourage everyone to seek out the full speech (because, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie).
-The Glossary

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