Author David Foster Wallace spoke at the 2005 graduation ceremony for Kenyon College. His message was directed at students who were about to venture into the world as independent, functional humans but his message on thinking is important for everyone to hear even ten years later. In our current global state, perhaps it’s time to relearn how to think.
“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 in existence.
We rarely talk about this sort of natural basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive but it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you were not at the absolute center of.
The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU. Or behind YOU. To the left or right of YOU on YOUR tv or YOUR monitor and so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.Continue reading →
Who would have thought President Obama had such a witty and irreverent speechwriter?
Far from your typical political rhetorician, former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett is also far from the rote, uplifting commencement speaker most colleges opt for. This year’s graduating class at Pitzer College got a taste of real talk, mixed with testy humor, inspiring personal anecdotes, and even a few curse words just to keep it real.
Did Lovett leave anything out that you think college graduates need to hear? What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone right now who is graduating from higher education?
Today as you celebrate this major milestone in your life and commence a new stage of your life journey, I ask you to reflect on the gift of life itself. And life, in essence, is nothing but awareness. Furthermore human life, considered the pinnacle of biological evolution, is not just awareness, but self-awareness. Amongst creatures on this planet, we human beings are not only aware; we have the capacity to be aware that we are aware, to be conscious of our consciousness. In that self-awareness lies our potential and power to direct our own future evolution and the future evolution of civilization.
Biological evolution has been summed up in the phrase of “survival of the fittest,” but with overpopulation and over-consumption of resources, the future belongs to “survival of the wisest”. It is imperative for the future of humanity that wisdom becomes the new criterion for sustainable life on this planet. And wisdom is that knowledge that nurtures life in all its dimensions not only for us but also for the generations that follow us.
Today’s age is frequently referred to as the Information Age. The hallmarks of this age are the gifts of science and technology that have created the miracles of molecular medicine, real-time imaging of cellular function, instant accessibility of global knowledge, and social networks. Yet despite this emerging global brain, paradoxically we are beset with the same scourges of war and terrorism, radical poverty in 50% of the world’s population, irreversible climate change, along with deepening social and economic injustice! Furthermore, humanity suffers from massive malnutrition in which half the world suffers from hunger and the other half from obesity leading to inflammatory disorders, increasing the risk of chronic illnesses including many types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases while the hungry die from compromised immune function and infectious diseases. The information revolution has not led to the wisdom needed to solve our world crisis in health and well-being.
If ever humanity had the power of mass self-extinction on planet earth, it is today. And if it happens it will be because we allowed our emotional and spiritual evolution to be outpaced by the evolution of our science and technology. Nuclear proliferation, biological warfare, eco destruction, the extinction of species and the poisoning of our atmosphere, our rivers and waters and the very food that sustains our life and all life loom before us as imminent threats. But just as in other critical phases of transformation, while there is disaster looming on one hand, there is on the other hand the potential to create a radical reorganization into something much greater than was conceived of before.
Today, I ask you my young friends, you who are the future hope of humanity, you who are the future leaders of the world; today, I ask you what Mahatma Gandhi once asked, “Can you be the change you want to see in the world?”
In fact, there can be no social or world transformation unless there is your own inner transformation. Today, I ask you to face a fundamental truth. Today, I ask you to consider that there is no ‘you’ that is separate from the world. The gift of life, your own self-consciousness is your key to inner transformation and wisdom, and that in turn is how you will transform the world. Today, I ask you to acknowledge that you are the world and that your transformation of consciousness will be the future of the word. This self-transformation is the wisdom for our planet’s survival.
As I enter the autumn of my life and you the springtime of yours, I want to leave you with seven skills in self-awareness that I have learned and that I hope will serve you well no matter what profession you choose, or where your life and destiny take you.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I outline the seven skills of self-awareness!
On a quest to find her place in the world, the spirited young heroine in my novel comes face-to-face with some monumental obstacles.
First, being a girl at the turn of the first millennia, her community, and even her family, consider her nearly worthless. Second, she is further shunned and misunderstood because of her unusual appearance.
Eventually, she is cast out.
Being dismissed from one’s community—even for success and high achievement!—can prove extremely difficult. Leaving behind all you know to face the world on your own merits can lead to a conflicting mix of excitement and apprehension.
What, then, can you do to strengthen yourself as you embark on this new and challenging phase in your life?
Anna’s story of struggle and eventual triumph provides three insights that can help you empower yourself:
1) Ask the difficult questions—challenge the status quo. So much in our lives depends on the questions we ask—and, perhaps even more, on those we don’t ask.Humanity depends on those who challenge our assumptions. Without them, the world would remain flat and leeches a cure all. When her father mourned the loss of his son and felt cursed with a daughter, Anna demanded to know: Why is a dead son worth more than a living daughter? At the time, it was outrageous to ask this question. Today we know better. Are there questions that you are burning to ask but do not for fear of upsetting “the way things are”? Are there places in your life where you’re making choices just to “get along” rather than trusting your gut.
2) Remember who you are, no matter who you must become. All of us lead double lives. In one life, we are powerful beings, imbued with creativity, imaginative spark, and mind-blowing physical talents. In the other, we are bank tellers, teachers, high-powered business executives, on-the-go parents, devoted partners, etc. The demands of our second (and third and fourth and fifth) identities often overshadow the intrinsic magic of the first. As Anna grew older, she trained herself to pause at moments throughout her day to remember her inherent self, to honor the miracle of her human existence, and to draw a sense of strength from these reminders. Given all we do in a day, it’s easy to be forgetful of our true selves. Sometimes we even have to remember to remember who we truly are.
3) Spend time with the eternal. To practice the first two insights takes enormous inner strength and resolve. Yet, in our increasingly fast and harried lives, more of our attention is going toward man-made devices such as cell phones, computers, videos – things that are impermanent.
To help restore a sense of connectedness, try to spend a little time contemplating something that is part of the eternal world. The thing itself doesn’t have to be grand or exotic. What matters is not the object, but the depth of your attention. Anna drew incredible inspiration from a single blade of grass. You might do the same from a houseplant. Maybe a bird outside. Or how about opening your fridge? Any fruit or vegetable will do! Contemplate how its life began. Where it draws its energy from. How it is vulnerable or strong. While the practice may seem odd at first, over time, you will feel deeply emboldened by these moments spent communing with what endures. In fact, you may even come to crave them!