April 17, 2013

Wearing Sunscreen In This Water - From the Mundane to the Profound

While we're on the topic,  I also really like a good hard-hitting "how to live life" kind of speech.  Commencement addresses, when done right, can sometimes be a good source for this sort of inspiration and perspective.  (Even though the only thing I remember about my own college graduation was how blazing hot it was.  But I digress.)

At any rate, I've happened across two such speeches that I like very much over the past few days.

The first, well,  wasn't actually a commencement address.  But, as urban legend would have it, it was a commencement speech delivered by one Kurt Vonnegut.  Not true, as it turns out.  The "Wear Sunscreen Speech" was a 1997 column from the Chicago Tribune written by one Mary Schmich.  I remember reading it years ago.  Worth re-reading.  Not fall-off-your-chair awesome, but nicely done.

What I particularly love about it is the way it juxtaposes the mundane ("floss") with the profound ("Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind.  The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.").  Because that is what life is, a cross between the mundane and the profound.

Oh, and here's a couple neat things that Kurt Vonnegut actually did say:

  • "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
  • "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"
Yup.  He's good, that Kurt Vonnegut.  Kilgore Trout would be proud.

The second, entitled "This is Water," is a 2005 commencement address delivered by the incomparable David Foster Wallace.  I had never come across this before.  Love it.  This piece should simply be required reading.

Interestingly, it also touches on the connection between the mundane and profound.  Perhaps we're on to something here?!

Some snippets to entice you:

"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?" . . . .  

If you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning. . . .

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too. . . .

[L]earning 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. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

'This is water.'

'This is water.'"

1 comment:

srisahara said...

Thank you, it is very nice tip. I often go to beach so I need to protect my skin from sunburn.