That default setting…

I once read somewhere that if you want to sound intelligent , just quote David Foster Wallace. :-)
I haven’t read Infinite Jest, and so I do not know his real literary prowess. And I think its slightly pretentious to quote him, but then we all know that I have a bad judgmental side to me. More on that later in this post.

Its well known that the guy is a literary genius, and people have lamented at his sudden self-inflicted death. As a side note, what's it with very brilliant people being totally sanki, aka screwed up? Before I completely digress, let me get back to David Foster Wallace, one of those authors I’ve been quoting a lot lately.

So yeah, people have said that he is literary genius. And by people, I mean Maria Popova of BrainPickings.Org whom I totally admire. Not only is the lady awesome, her writing and her recommendations are awesome too!

Image Courtesy – Transparent Cities

Maria Popova has quoted Wallace in many of her posts, and that’s basically how I’ve heard of him. I don’t remember how and when I’ve read about This is Water, Wallace’s famous speech delivered at Kenyon in 2005, this post is about that talk. This is something I’ve read and re-read often, at least once every quarter, and is so intelligent yet simple.

So without wanting to sound intelligent or pretentious, let me just tell that this is simply one of the best works of prose I’ve read. Just plain vanilla awesome-ness. Its not the ease with which he speaks (I have never seen the video , don’t even know if one such video exists, I’ve always been reading this talk in prose format), but it is the ease with which he delivers one of the greatest truths of life, according to me.

To summarize my takeaways in just a few sentences, he says its important to be aware of what ‘water’ is, i.e., what is real and essential? And then he expands the talk into learning and education, and goes on to say that education is a way for us to overcome our default setting.

What is this default setting, you ask?

That nagging voice which tells you to judge a person based on his appearance, color, country of origin, clothes etc.

That discouraging voice which tells you to hit the snooze button and get another hour of sleep . Who cares for the gym anyways so early in the morning!

That voice which tells you that the ride is extremely uphill , and that  you will never be able to ride it all through on your bicycle , so its best to quit right here instead of going through the humiliation of having to walk with the cycle in tow.

Assuming that the waiter or the sales girl is there for our comfort, and so we can trample all over them.

Yeah, familiar with one of these voices? That’s the default setting. Its something the mind is attuned to do without any thought. This is something that comes naturally to us, thanks to our exposure and social conditioning.

And this is something that we need to battle with , EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.

That is, if you do not want to end up like billions of others with mediocre thinking, and want to strive to take your learning one step further everyday.

This is also if you want to keep questioning yourself everyday if you want to be doing what you are doing.

Tough work, I admit.
Questioning your mind every time it makes a decision for you.
Being aware that the mind is making decisions subconsciously.
Having the courage to go with the right answer the head throws while the heart wants you to do what is easy.
Knowing that status-quo is not the way to be.
All of this is tough work.

But then, isn’t this all about evolving? And education? :-)

If this has stoked your interest, then do read the prose of This is Water. Trust me, it will be one of the best things you’ll do for yourself!


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