David Foster Wallace on Empathy

March 3, 2009

As you may know, David Foster Wallace’s last (unfinished at the time of his untimely suicide…is there ever a timely one?) novel will be coming out this year as will a book containing the text of the graduation speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

In it, he defends the true capital T-truth behind liberal education. It’s pretty incredible that what he saw at the heart of the education system was humility. I’m deeply in awe of people that have seen the system and come to that conclusion. They are better men and women than I. We need more of them, less of idiots like me 🙂

Quote after the jump

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

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