Next World TV

Common Sense Solutions - Starting Now

This Is Water

David Foster Wallace

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Seeing the Real Truth in the Tedium

Let's take a quick poll. Is there a driver among us who has, in a moment of split-second weakness, spit out a negative word (or perhaps a string of unmentionable expletives) to describe the driving abilities of a fellow motorist? Are you raising your hand? (...Okay, yes, I'm raising my hand.) Don't worry, my guess is we are the 99.99%. Maybe Mother Theresa was the lone hold out, possessing the grace and compassion to transcend that most unflattering light of rush hour traffic...maybe.

In this excerpt from his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace discusses how we are effected by the tedium of daily "banal platitudes" such as having to make a trip to the grocery store at the end of a long work day or being stuck in gridlock. The way we experience and respond to these situations can lead us to feeling drained, negative, and angry. But, Wallace explains that we have a choice.

If we took a second to step back when confronted with frustrating situations, we'd realize this moment is not "all about us". Wallace goes on to say our natural default setting is egocentricity, thereby creating the facade that everyone else is "other". Suddenly we are the victim and all of these strangers are working together collectively to make our lives more difficult. This automatic "Them against Me" mindset allows negative thoughts to bubble up about those around us. We stop thinking of people as individuals, dismiss their humanity, and harshly label them as "rude", "stupid", or worse. All of this happens on a subconscious level when the world is filtered through the belief of "I am the center of the world and my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities." says Wallace.

So it's time to work on changing the automatic response. Next time you start to feel like the universe is conspiring against you, it might be time for a reality check. Wallace explains, "You get to decide how you're going to see [the situation] get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't." If we can become aware enough to choose, we might see that every single person is smack in the middle of their Own Human Experience. Perhaps we'll choose to let go of some of the frustration and boundaries, creating a little more space for compassion, connection, and Truth.

To hear David Foster Wallace's full commencement speech visit

Learn more about The Glossary, producers of the film, at

-- Brie Sullivan