Attempting consciousness

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A challenge worth taking on.

“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 little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish 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 on what you want to consider.”

I received a book copy of This is Water by David Foster Wallace from a friend a few years ago. It is a brief, yet profound, read. One that I’ve come back to several times, and lately even more often.

It’s a commencement speech that encourages the listeners to attempt to be conscious and resist the — often inevitable — default setting of viewing the world through your standard lens. To not draw the obvious and immediate conclusions in the split second you have to assess a situation.

I think it sidesteps the cliché trap in that it so clearly acknowledges the difficulties and impracticalities of living this way. It’s hard. Arguably impossible. But the aspirational trait of not always letting your default view become your reality is something I’m trying to get better at.

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