"But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of "wanting and achieving".
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think.
The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting [our hard-wired belief that we are the center of the universe], the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. 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."
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.
--David Foster Wallace, May 21, 2005, delivered at the Kenyon College commencement--
I don't know how I missed this extraordinary speech.
Before this morning, I had no idea of who the late David Foster Wallace was---and I owe that discovery to Trent Gillis of "On Being", who shared this video excerpt of Wallace's Kenyon commencement speech today. Maybe you've already seen this video. At least 4 million others have viewed it since it appeared just this month. I'm late to this party.
Turns out, Wallace was a brilliant, award-winning, promising writer. A professor at Pomona College, who tragically died much too young at the age of 46, by taking his own life.
I'm still trying to get my head around how to reconcile the "well-adjusted" wisdom of his message to the Kenyon graduates, with the tragedy of his own depression, emotional distress, alcoholism, and eventual suicide. If anything, maybe it's an example of the message he was trying to get across to his audience:
"Get out of your own story, and pay attention to the people around you. Have patience, compassion, understanding. Everyone has a story--and baggage--not only you!"
Perhaps, he spoke about what he most wanted to practice in his own life. Teach what you want to learn.
"People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect.
This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
If you saw the Cleveland Clinic "Empathy" video--you'll know exactly what Wallace is talking about--"Standing Inside Someone Else's Shoes".
In spite of his difficult life & tragic death, his words still ring powerfully true to my own "post-commencement" life experiences, and for that reason I want to share them.
This video is based on the abridged version of his commencement speech. It's some of the best life advice I've seen.
If you don't see the video on your screen, click here.
If you'd like to read the full transcript of David Foster Wallace's speech, you'll find it here.
Definitely a worthwhile read.
There's lots to think about here. Worthy of many repeat viewings.