Week 10 already! It’s always amazing to see how fast time goes by. I start this week’s inspiration with a joke of sorts:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
When the month begins, I always like to take a different tact, moving up the ladder a bit and see the whole, or what my class used to call “getting on the balcony”. This week I had the great pleasure to attend a class on public speaking this week, and during it I was exposed to commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, and I was struck by the truth he was dropping on these students. He told them that the storm was coming for them. That no matter how smart they thought they were, that the beat-down of everyday life was coming for them. Unless they changed something. Unless they changed their frame of reference, and not think that the world was full of idiots.
He calls it the Default Setting, this water, the idea that we’re the main point of our lives and that ours is the only one that matters and that all of these people in front of me in traffic or in the grocery store are stupid and annoying and just in my way. Watch the video below. The actors are living the life of the default setting, and are my target audience for HappyWisdom. We, like they, get trapped in the hum of the every day, cruising on our Default Setting, not asking the deeper questions and being annoyed that so much of life is frustratingly out of our control.
Check it out and see if you can capture in your mind what the key to getting out of the Default Setting is…
Did you catch it? The goal is to be free to decide what to think. It is the true goal of education.
It’s basically the Truth of freewill. Tragically, the author of this speech committed suicide in 2006, at 46 years old, after a long struggle with depression. I do not think for one second this fact tarnishes or invalidates the message of this speech. I believe that the work of humans are frequently greater than the human that created them. The words in this speech ring true for me, and for those not affected by mental illness, it is a call to live better, to open our eyes and think, and decide to be compassionate and consider the whole picture because we are alive.
David Foster Wallace puts it like this:
But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…
There’s a PDF of this speech here and in that he continues the thought:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
They say there’s no atheists in trenches, but I think Faith is equally important in the grocery store isle. Faith helps us believe that our walk, no matter how mundane it might feel, is worth something. That by doing my job, and a hundred other micro-kindnesses, makes a real difference and that someone or something is keeping track of it all.
This speech tells us more, but I’m way over my word count. What do you folks think? Are you stuck on Default? How do you break out of the hypnotic ever-day and see the bigger picture? What ideas do you have to put Mr. Wallace’s ideas into your day? Tell us below!