David Foster Wallace delivered this commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. It is amongst the most remarkable videos conjured from a speech-turned-into-a-book I’ve ever seen. The message is palpable. Check it out:
This post is formidable for a number of reasons – the message of “choice” – in “choosing” our attitude is a reinforcement of key elements in my work and has been for years. We do control our attitude even if it is just a conscious decision to emphasize our view of one thing in our visual field as opposed to another. What do we look at? How do we pick that particular object? Why is it we are attracted to it? Sometimes its the things we hate that draw our attention. Sometimes its the things we love. Is it improbable that while experiencing “the line at the grocery store” and the “characters in it” – we might just decide to review a video of love and peace and human kindness in our own mind?
And so we’re back to CHOICE.
Unless we can not choose. I often speak to the differences between cognitive distortions in our thinking – and – the seriousness of delusional thinking. Our world view (being an only child of an orthodox Jew in NYC vs the 8th born of 9 on a farm in Indiana) tends to impact the kinds of distortions in our thinking we will experience. Growing up in the country we never locked our door. It was a non-factor. No one had ever stolen from us, and I remember one time we found a “thank you note” on our kitchen table from our neighbor Betty Lou who had borrowed some sugar. My bride was the 3rd born to a NYC cop raised in Brooklyn. She wanted 3 deadbolts on our new front door – as we had purchased a home in the country outside of Boulder. It made no sense to me. Welcome to distorted thinking.
So, how do you solve differences like this? In our case, we did research. Enter the Boulder County Sheriff’s officer who came to our house at our request to show us crime statistics in the neighborhood. And – he gave us a recommendation on a simple dead-bolt door lock which we actually use to this day. No more cognitive distortion impacting our sense of security and a simple solution to what could have been an ongoing “discussion.”
But what about delusional thinking. Well – this is what happens when logic, counseling, and caring does not have enough of an impact to alter the all-consuming thoughts-visions-internal dialogue- and – constant barage of negative thinking that overwhelms us. Enter the neurological-biological-endocrinological world of depression. This is where medications are important and a psychiatrist worth their salt is a tremendous assett.
You see David Foster Wallace was a brilliant mind and a Pulitzer nominated author who battled depression for his entire life, and ultimately succumbed to it when he committed suicide in 2008. His loss at 46 years of age left a huge void even though I had not heard of him until this morning. May he rest in peace. And may those afflicted with chronic Depression receive the help they need to keep their mindset – their default setting – focused on their choices of embracing life, beauty, art, compassion, love and the sharing of human kindness. To truly embrace these will keep us alive. Really alive.
Another Look at David Foster Wallace – Another Look at Suicide
In 1999, Wallace wrote a piece entitled “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” characterizes an incredible capacity to grasp the depth of emotions and all manner of compensations people engage in. Check out this video – Suicide as a Sort of Present and it illustrates this man’s amazing intellect as well as the demons he wrestled with: