This is Water, This is Water
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 asks, “What the hell is water?”
David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was an American writer and university professor of English and creative writing. His novel Infinite Jest was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.
Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class at Kenyon College, is a timeless trove of wisdom. The speech was made into a thin book titled: This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.
(I highly recommend listening to the speech itself, which you can find on Farnam Street here)
The Moral of the Story
The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about....The fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.
Nearing the end of his speech, Wallace remarks:
"The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
This is water.
This is water."
Wallace reminds us that we (ourselves) are not the center of the universe. Whatever pain or challenges that we are currently facing, thousands of others have faced in the past.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at your own life and the lives of others around you.
"That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
Until next Friday, Thinkers.
P.S. Time Urban is back and this is a biggie.