This is Water

Published on Sep 5, 2020

I just finished reading David Foster Wallace's This is Water commencement address at Kenyon College. The address is on my list of things I try to revisit every once in a while to get myself back to the right tracking thinking.

The message of the address is that our default settings for what we pay attention to and how we construct meaning from experience are not optimal, and in fact rather unhealthy. Those default settings are to assume that the person who cut you off in traffic is a jerk, to assume that everyone else is thinking about the pain and discomfort you are going through, and to believe (truthfully) that you are the almighty center of your own universe and experience. It's too easy to get carried away with the background monologue that your mind automatically generates when you aren't intentional about it. But it's simply no way to live.

True freedom is when you have the agency to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from your experience. And typically that means to focus on what is sitting directly in front of your face—which has only gotten more difficult as our devices train us into a frenetic state of distraction.

I can choose what to pay attention to. I have to remind myself that.