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Notable Book: This Is Water

In 2005, David Foster Wallace delivered a commencement address (his only ever) at Kenyon College.  The speech made the rounds of the Internet and after his death, it was published in this book, This is Water:  Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.

The book can be read in one sitting, but the thoughts contained may require you to re-read it again and again.  What does it mean that the purpose of a college education is to make you think?  As Wallace postulates, most people are hard-wired to think of themselves first.  The world revolves around me.  We think of me first.

Learning how to think means beginning to learn “how to exercise control over how and what you think..to begin to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”  And this will take a lifetime.  The challenge of this is not only our default setting (me) but also the sheer boredom and repetition of life (work, eat, sleep, repeat).  To combat this challenge, we tend to rely on our default setting, thinking and reacting as to how everything affects me.

The challenge of an education (and what Wallace calls the freedom) is the ability to become “well-adjusted.”  A well-adjusted person determines what has meaning and what doesn’t.  A well-adjusted person chooses what they will worship (because, as Wallace points out, we all worship something), so will a person worship something that will never satisfy, that will leave them empty, or that will leave them wanting more?

The real freedom of a well-adjusted person, according to Wallace, is one who possesses “attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being truly able to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways every day.”

This book is worth your time.

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