This is Water
This is Water is the title of an essay by David Foster Wallace (naturally), derived from a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College, the recording of which can be heard here. In it, he remarks on the power that education (and intelligence) gives to individuals to individuals - it is not the capacity to think, but instead the choice of what to think about.
With an education comes the ability to question what is going in your life, both around you and inside yourself. It affords you a sense of self awareness such that you can recognise thoughts which are part of your default cognitive setting and then you can consider whether or not to choose to attempt to make a change, through conscious effort. He makes a grim case for life lived without mounting these challenges to our presets; one full of pettiness, banality, boredom and frustration. All our adult lives are going to involve a lot of monotonous mundanity, and if we allow ourselves to not savour those moments, to be quick to anger in them, to feel hard done by or sad or regretful, then DFW boldly claims that we are already dead despite ostensibly still living. If we can realise that we are not in fact the centre of the universe (which is infinitely easier said than done, given that all of our experiences are presented to us with ourselves as the centre), we can find compassion for others and understand that these repetitive, dull moments actually have something in them that makes them sacred - the fact that they are simply moments, shared moments, universal to the human experience, moments in which we can find great connection if we are not solely focused on ourselves when we are within them.
The anecdote he begins and ends with, after which the essay is named, goes as such;
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?”
So that’s my current goal. To try and see that this, is water.