In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a painfully honest commencement speech, urging listeners to live life mindfully and to have empathy for our fellow humans. Above is a ten-minute excerpt of the speech which you can read in its entirety here. Some choice excerpts:

Most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible.

It just depends what you what to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

via Daring Fireball

  • mtnchkn

    I always have trouble reconciling this speech with his suicide.

    • Jared Krauss

      Consider: One can have an intellect allowing them to make connections which One who has the ability to deal with the new reality the connections bring may not have. Thus, suicide is broader than our capacity to understand, truly, why one commits it.

      That is to say, DFW’s suicide should be consider as its own statement, rather than as a pallor cast over considered words of wisdom. Because it is so large already and so difficult to understand already, we do ourselves harm attempting to reconcile our understanding of a deeply personal act of another, with our own interpretations of their work.

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