This is Water

“‘Learning to think’ really means learning how to
exercise some control over how and what you think.'”
-David Foster Wallace, This is Water

In his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace started out by talking to the graduates about life like it is. Rather than giving the popular ‘go out there and you’ll do great’ speech, he actually did the opposite by telling the graduates about how life is sometimes not going to go their way. In talking about this, Wallace makes a big point on how people have the ability to choose how they see things; “you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”

I’ve heard about this outlook a lot lately – specifically, it was preached to me at a band leadership camp this summer at Texas State, where there was an emphasis on how choosing to be positive created productivity within a group. While it seems like it would make sense and be an effective way of living, I can’t help but think about how difficult it is to constantly see things in a way that’s not your own. Wallace actually does address this in his speech, saying that all our lives we “interpret everything through this lens of self.”

During one of the breaks of this summer camp, Lily Y. (who was also there) and I talked a bit about how this idea that everyone has the ability to control their attitude seemed a little slanted. For someone with one or various mental health disorders that may affect mood or reality, the ability to see things in a so-called “positive” way is much more of a challenge than it is for someone without these ailments. Considering that it’s pretty difficult for someone without these afflictions to do this, it’s not a very realistic expectation of everyone.

Wallace, being someone who knew the effects of depression on one’s mind, didn’t say that this way of thinking was expected of everyone or that it was easy. Instead, he made a larger point about awareness – “awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us.” While it may be impossible for everyone to have the same positive outlook that’s taught by some, it is more possible to learn to be more aware – something that brings us one step closer to reality.


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