On This Is Water

I recently finished reading This Is Water – Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life – by David Foster Wallace. The content of this book was delivered as a commencement speech on 2005 and was highly recommended by Shane Parrish from Farnam Street.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us here, but the fact is that religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s atheist’s—arrogance, Wind certainty. a closed-mindedness that’s like an imprisonment so complete that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

This is not a matter of virtue—it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hardwired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract thinking instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on in front of me. Instead of paying attention to what’s going on inside me.

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

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.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.”

Which means vet another cliche is true: Your education really is the job of a lifetime, and it commences—now.

A highly recommended quick read filled with inspiration.

 

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