O, the maddening tedium of the everyday responsibilities of adult life! It plagues us because, when traversing a landscape all-too-familiar and all-too-disappointing, the "default setting" of our mentality is to feel victimized by circumstance. We place ourselves in the center of the universal narrative, making the plot-line all about our own misery. In this video, which animates excerpts of his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, novelist David Foster Wallace speaks about personal empowerment in the often stultifying world of responsible adulthood. The freedom comes from an open-minded awareness of the possibility that there are less self-centered, complex, and gladdening narratives spinning around you -- even in the most frustrating situations. "It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down," he advises. "Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it."


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  • Mike Wilson

    You only begin to understand the water when you begin to understand your basic fishiness and how it connects with the water. Water and any other physical, cognitive, affective, or social environment is really only a function of the perceiving and therefore the perceiver.

  • Sheila Laffey

    appreciated the messages about mindfulness - being awake and not asleep -it's funny that the shift in the mind takes a second but makes all the difference! i can't wait to share this w/ my classes... thanks for doing this -- so well done!

  • Rudolph

    @Graydon: I'm not sure how your comment really correlates to the meat of what DFW is saying in his speech. He establishes that first, the story of the world and universe does not lead up to our individual existence - and even if you were to argue with him on this point, you could not argue that it would be an efficient way to live in a place with a population greater than 1. I don't think he is attempting to present a problem of ethics - of whether or not we feed the buffalo or the wolf. Also, the analogy depends on the existence of objective traits such as evil and sacredness/goodness - and as we can see from our own existence, it's our subjectivity often guides our observation of certain truths. DFW would argue that you still have the power to choose how you perceive the buffalo and the wolf, and this reality trumps whether or not there is a 'right' or 'wrong' answer. Besides, any person that is mature enough to think holistically about this scenario could see that it's irrational to feed the wolf because there are likely greater consequences to that scenario that affect you on an individual level than there are with the buffalo. What I think he's trying to emphasize is that the only thing we can really accept about our world is our inability to actually know all of the factors behind the events we perceive on a daily basis. Furthermore, these events happen with or without our presence and observation, so becoming upset by these day in day out occurrences can, to a certain extent, be an act of selfishness more than anything else. By accepting that you cannot possibly know every scenario, you accept the realities of the world in a different way. It's important to note that acceptance does not necessarily mean tolerance. You can accept inexplicable suffering and seemingly pointless evil without tolerating it as a simple, irrevocable fact of life. It seems as if he's really trying to say that, by pursing values such as empathy and humility - values that a liberal education traditionally supports - you just may live a happier, more productive life. By not placing your own material idols as the focal point of your existence you just may end up leading a life with contentment rather than a life rooted in a perpetually frustrating desire for those things you do not have.

  • Graydon

    Mr. Wallace's philosophy of every-day,fundamental problems; such as reality, existence, knowledge, or values, is nothing new. The concept of "choosing" how we think has been with us for centuries. I remember a story about a young Cherokee Indian boy whose Grandfather told him that inside of every man, there is a battle that rages' between a great sacred buffalo, and an evil wolf,and that only one will win the battle. And when the young man asks which shall win; the Grandfather replies, "The one you feed". We all can choose to feed either one. Unfortunately, many of us choose the wolf...

  • andrewww

    What about celebrating the fact that just a couple generations ago you couldnt just "drive to the grocery store, and buy fresh produce" but actually had to grow and harvest your own food...i often find myself bewildered by the convenience of my nearby 24 hr marsh supermarket.....steak and artichoke with mango salad at 1 A.M. is a freaking miracle

  • Billiee

    Wish the video were still available/operative. I viewed it yesterday and was so touched, I wanted to see it again today. Wish, too, I could share it with my students at Georgia Tech. :(

  • Deborah Groening

    What a better way to live.

  • Deb Wong

    It's good to have a bit of perspective once-in-awhile to cut through our established mode of thinking, feeling & being.

  • The Lady B

    Jeremy....smartest, truest comment on the page. Capital T or not. I concur!!!

  • Larry

    The fact that he killed himself a few years later does not diminish the beauty of this talk. If we take his suggestion that we cannot know what the "other" is experiencing, we realize that his pain was probably too much for him to bear. Let's look out beyond our selfishness. Then we can experience the love that is the water in which 'we' swim.

  • Kristin Pedemonti

    May we ALL Choose Compassion & to see the Human Being. When we realize EVERYONE has a Story and we Choose to Step outside ourselves and see the Human Being in front of us, we have deeper Compassion and Understanding that often can turn into Patience & Love for All. thank you. HUG PS this video shows what I see EVERY Day, the part about Deciding to SEE the Human Being and stepping outside of Self. The World is so much More BEAUTIFUL this way! <3

  • sara

    What inspired you about this video? very nice. an idea to come out from your mechanical live.

  • Brian

    Thanks guys. Gratitude, Compassion, and Time to Think...necessary fundamentals for joy in the simple things...But how, when 9 to 5 is overworked, restless, and competitive within lifeless market profit motives?...the workforce system needs help, but not as much as a family starving for food...so we are charged with the challenge of finding balance for our financial/life motivation, and hoping we have the energy to help the world...we all do our own little part...it all adds up...Much love...God bless...Peace...

  • James

    A few years after giving this advice to a group of young students about to make their way in the world, the speaker hung himself. I wonder why this video has such appeal, unless it gives hope to people who see no way out of the drudgery. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace I think a more honest discussion might be in order. There was nothing in this speech about seeing through the madness that is our consumerist society, offering meaningful alternatives. The images near the end were suggestive of two people finding love and what then... they go off and have babies and continue the whole mad thing?

  • franki Gifts

    The way it goes from describing how awful life must be for some, many people to making the simple suggestion of a change of outlook, of awareness can lead to the same moments being awesome!

  • soeren

    Nice ;)

  • Conrad

    Fantastic. You have my deep gratitude. Warm and kind regards to you all.

  • Jeremy

    No! No! No! Nobody has to put up with the dreadful routine that David seems resigned to. You don't have to resign yourself to the 'life' that society, your education, and your parents have mapped out for you Real freedom is understanding that you can opt out of the rat-race altogether.

  • bob

    i've always believed we're the ones ultimately responsible for our own thoughts & feelings about the people and things surrounding us....but often times it's harder than we think because we make it that way. this clip was a fresh reminder that we not only need to claim back that responsibility (if we think we've lost it somehow) but also need to remember we're not alone on this journey and that others often face much greater hardship than our own!! keep on keepin' on!!

  • regina

    thank you for captioning your video!

  • bob

    and it is important to remember the kindness complete strangers showed us and to pass that along to the next frustrated customer you take care of, or that is standing next to you

  • Stuart Young

    David's eloquence at unravelling the thread of the story. This is what I want to be doing more of. I'm inspired. :)

  • Barbara Piscopo

    This video is "so real" that it has to be "Capital T True". What a gift to the world!

  • Tamilyn

    such a great reminder not only for the youth but for us adults living it ... thank you ,shared every where i can think of ..xo

  • Jiminy Cricket

    I like to believe that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. People who are careless simply lack the ability to care.

  • Patricia Kauer

    I have been in a dialogue about how to explain the value of mindfulness - what I call mind body awareness in a way that won't be dismissed as 'wu wu from California' this is it, this is water, this is air, this is so close it is over looked and so essential to the well being both personally and as a planet. Capita T True is we get to choose.

  • Ella de Jong

    wow, so beautiful, so great! I hope many, many people will see it and get inspired. As a Solution Focused counselor I recognize a lot, I love it and will share it with my clients. Thank you!!

  • Page 1

  • Read the full text of David Foster Wallace's talk, and learn about the brilliant literary achievements of his too-brief life.
  • David Foster Wallace urges us to be open to the possibility of rewriting the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.  Consider how personal storytelling defines, directs, and animates us.
  • Make the conscious decision to imagine the more delightful possibilities the next time you find yourself mired in a seemingly dreary situation.

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