This Is Water. A commencement speech by David Foster Wallace.

This video has been making the rounds on the social networks so it’s possible you’ve already seen it, but on the off-chance that some of you haven’t I’m posting it here as it’s some of the best life advice I’ve ever heard:

THIS IS WATER – By David Foster Wallace from The Glossary on Vimeo.

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.

Read the full speech here.
The Glossary

I find that this resonates with me on a personal level because it’s how I try to live my life. I couldn’t tell you when or where I learned this, but somewhere in my 45 years on this planet I’ve managed to find ways to alleviate the boring tedium that makes up the vast majority of our daily routine. Often by being a goofball.

The video gives an example of standing in a busy supermarket checkout lane and the inherent frustration that can provoke. I’ve experienced such situations countless times and most of the time I’m able to remind myself that I’m not the only one standing there and that many of them may have significantly more troubles than I do. I always try to make any harried cashiers I deal with smile if at all possible. Usually through an attempt at wit, or at least an approximation of it. Same thing with waitresses at restaurants. I try to live by the rule that the last person I want to piss off is the person who is handling my food.

It’s easy to get the impression from my ranting here on SEB that I don’t like people, but the truth is I love people. We are an amazing species capable of astounding acts of beauty, bravery, and plain old simple good heartedness. The things we can accomplish when we use our brains and work together seem to be unlimited, which is why I get so frustrated with those folks who refuse to use their brains and act as though they are the center of the Universe. Note I didn’t say they were incapable of using their brains, but refuse to do so.

That said, we all have our off days where using our brains is just too much effort and I try to keep that in mind when interacting with others as well. Life can be tough and none of us are getting out of it alive, but while we’re here we can choose how we deal with it and our attitude about it. I vent a lot here, but when I’m out in the real world I try to make at least my little corner of it a little less of a pain in the ass for myself and everyone around me. I may not always succeed, but I try.

4 thoughts on “This Is Water. A commencement speech by David Foster Wallace.

  1. Thanks for sharing this video, I actually hadn’t seen it. Similar to you this is how I try to live my life as well, and at 38 I’m not exactly sure how I picked it up. Through a lot of things I imagine. Mostly recently though I remember I was sitting in a particularly long line at a drive thru when I decided to try out the MLS app on my phone. So there I was watching a live soccer match in LA…in a drive thru line, in Dallas, on a phone. I was impressed when I could play snake on my first Nokia phone way back when. We live in an age of wonders and miracles, it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

  2. A thought provoking speech and a good comment from you. I have found that a smile or short conversation with people I come in contact with almost always results in a pleasant situation or a found memory.

  3. Awesome post, Les. It’s a good example of what keeps me stopping-by. This video’s simple take-home message could certainly benefit from a wider audience and maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place.

  4. I stumbled onto this post via Google. I was looking for an alternate source of the video because the one on YouTube is “no longer available due to a copyright claim by David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.” It looks like the one on Vimeo was also hit by a copyright claim. Too bad. Things like this should be shared freely. Maybe the trust was concerned that The Glossary may have been making too much money &/or exposure of off the videos.

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