Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Free Mind

As the school year ends, I often think about what habits of thought I want my students to embrace. I just had about 10 free minutes, so I used them to look up a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005. Good move.

It came recommended by the wise and talented Sarah Glidden. Last Sunday, she spoke to our Write On For Israel students about the graphic novel that she wrote, describing her evolving understanding of Israel on a birthright trip. As usual, Amnon Ophir made another great call in bringing in a terrific speaker. She really role modeled intelligent conversation as a powerfully effective form of advocacy. After all, is there a better way to get people to see the complexity of the conflict in the Middle East than listening and speaking about it reasonably? She's way cool.

Anyway, one of the students asked her about her favorite quotes and authors, and she referred to David Foster Wallace. (of whom I know little) She quoted a story he told at the graduation mentioned above:

"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?'". 

I found a full transcript of the speech, and found it to be rich and insightful thoughts about how we think. I also found an abridged version. (but I think the full one is worth it) While its sad that the mind that expressed these ideas eventually destroyed itself, I don't think that detracts from the value of their wisdom. 

All you need to do is free up the 10 minutes to read it. 

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