Monday, March 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on a Compassionate Life

Ten o’clock on Monday is still a Monday update. ☺

So this one’s a bit behind schedule, since I’ve been following a few things in the news and been a bit all over the place. But things are settling down.

Following David Foster Wallace’s suicide in September of 2008, his publisher (Little, Brown & Co.) announced that they were publishing in book form David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to the Kenyon College class of 2005 under the title of This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. It was the only such address that Wallace would ever give.

But what Wallace reminds us of in this speech is that everything that you are at the absolute center of everything that has ever happened in your life. And so we’re always stuck at the middle of our own experiences. But he stresses that life is about more than meeting our own simple needs. He corrects misconceptions about how a liberal arts education “teaching you how to think” is more than simply a platitude; Wallace says, “‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

So in short, I’ve been thinking a lot about the health care debacle, since I--like millions of other Americans--am without health insurance. Whereas I don’t think it goes far enough--it's more health insurance reform than it is health care (and that’s a necessary first step, I feel)--I still feel that the idea behind the whole push was to get outside of narrow, individualist thinking. That government can make a conscious choice from the experiences of people to provide, to pay attention.

Both sides of the debate have used a bit of fop logic and a lot of catch phrases (don’t get me started on those), but what’s important here is moving beyond this shallow, self-interested, self-promoting nature of business as usual. It’s about actually looking at the circumstances and observing the world beyond one’s self. “Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life,” Wallace cautions, “you will be totally hosed.”


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