Blog Post #5 - This is Water

Blog Post #5 – This is Water

Humans have always considered themselves superior to every other creature on earth. And, while there may be some justification for that perspective, what if it wasn’t simply a given? Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is famous and timeless for its ability to transmit the idea that we must ‘wake up’ to our reality at some point – and likely in the midst, or the wake, of our education. Once we are educated, we are able to see what we couldn’t before. But once we are educated and can see beyond the darkness that shadowed our understanding, we can quickly become righteous in our belief that ‘now we know’ all we need to.

David Foster Wallace approaches the idea of awakening from a different perspective in his essay This is Water, given as a commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 2005.

{Here is a link to the text

And, here is a video that was made to illustrate the essay: }


One of the big take-aways I took from hearing about the education systems in other countries is how similar they tend to be. And how western they are in their organization and outcomes. And I couldn’t help but wonder: what is lost in global learning opportunity when everything is based upon the assumptions made by the Allied Forces after World War II to re-create society in a way that tempers differences and systematizes understanding?

I completely understand that at the time, it was likely the best thinking and reasoning that could happen. I don’t doubt that the major players from each country, political philosophy, religion or sect believed in most of what they said and supported as being what was best for humanity. Both world wars took a horrible toll on society and I would wager to say that we are still living in the wake of reverberations from that time, much like water ripples across a pond and then back again over itself when a rock is plunged into it.

I have wrestled with how to interpret “This is Water” in terms of what I heard from you all, and I’ve listened to it several times trying to. And I’m still having difficulty getting to the nut of what I want to say.

So, instead, I will encourage you to read and/or listen to it yourselves. And let me know what you think about his charge to the graduates he is addressing, and about humanity in general. Then, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m eager to hear what you have to say.



This is the section I come back to time and time again, (and think if only I had heard this as I graduated from college…):


If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…

The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

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. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.