This week I have been re-reading David Foster Wallace’s short work, This Is Water: a book about taking up an I-You relationship to the world, the importance of freedom, and a caution against enslaving ourselves to our own self-centredness. It’s a call to think about how we think, and about how we pay attention to our lives.
“Everything in my own immediate
experience supports my deep belief that I
am the absolute center of the universe, the
realest, most vivid and important person
If we’re prepared to examine this kind of narrow habitual thinking, argues Wallace, we can live in horizons much wider than a life lived on automatic pilot. By taking our part in the construction of meaning seriously we open up possibilities for connection even in the most hum-drum, irritating, everyday situations of life. We can
“experience [even] a crowded, hot, slow,
consumer-hell-type situation as not
only meaningful, but sacred, on fire
with the same force that lit the stars –
compassion, love, the subsurface unity
of all things.”
The book is a warning that much of what we uncritically worship (and we’re always worshipping something) has the capacity to consume our lives: worshipping money and things leads us to feel that we never have enough; worshipping intellect leaves us feeling stupid and a fraud; worshipping power leaves us feeling weak and afraid, always needing to pursue more power in order to feel safe.
And so it’s an invitation to choose, to orient our lives around meanings that are big enough to break us out of the prison of our selfishness, our sense of being the centre of everything.
It will take you all of 20 minutes to read this beautiful and challenging invitation to the work of a lifetime.
“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.”
Essential reading for anyone who has responsibility towards others in life – whether as colleague, friend, family, customer, citizen, or passer-by.