Are You Aware? By David Foster Wallace

“The most obvious realities are often the hardest to see and talk about”. David Foster Wallace draws a parallel between the life of a young fish who is acutely unaware of its immediate environment and our fast-paced lives where we tend to put our needs before everything else and view every person/situation as an obstacle coming in the way of realizing them.

In his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, Wallace starts by analyzing the day in the life of a typical working professional which is often filled with boredom, monotony and frustrations of several kinds. He then explains how humans are naturally programmed to react negatively to challenging or unpleasant situations, venting out on any and everything that stands in our path. Negativity comes easily to us, unless we make a conscious decision to check the way we think and alter our thought process, and momentarily consider other possibilities. For example, the annoying woman yelling at her kid at the cash counter may have actually had a hard day or may be tending to an ailing-husband.

Wallace says that while this may not likely be the truth, it is definitely a possibility. Considering that possibility instantly changes our perception of that woman, and makes us more sensitive and aware of our surroundings, sometimes inspiring us to place the needs of others above our own.

Wallace’s 8-minute address highlights a thought that most of us could implement in our day-to-day lives. It is an enriching lesson in mindfulness and living life with a deeper awareness of our surroundings and ourselves.


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