“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?’”
This story is the opening of a commencement speech by David F. Wallace, the late author of “Infinite Jest” (Little, Brown, 1996). Throughout my college years, I have come across few messages that have touched me as deeply as Wallace’s has. The message I take from the story is that we should be awake and aware of our own reality. In his speech, he notes, “Important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”
Just like the fish were not able to tell what water is, even though it is the reality they live in, I believe sometimes we tend to shift from our realities to others’ given the fact that we live in a technological world where the media controls what we see and know.
For example, on Nov. 13, we were engrossed by the terror attacks on Paris. Throughout the weekend, the news media were all about informing everybody about the tragic events. The hashtag #PrayforParis debuted worldwide on different social media outlets. Over that weekend, other types of hashtags, such as #PrayforBeirut, #PrayforSyria and others started to appear. Now, we were not only talking about Paris but also about the worldwide tragedies that had happened that week but were not given much of a spotlight.
Drastically, at some point, everything changed and all we could see, speak of and share was UFC champion Ronda Rousey’s knockout by Holly Holm. I even saw someone dare to post on his Facebook status, “You all have the attention span of a goldfish,” noting how we shifted from tragic events to entertainment topics in a matter of seconds. This made me think, do we really pay attention to the issues in our newsfeed? Or do we choose to take someone else’s reality and forget our own? Do we choose to make it our water?
This column will be read by, I hope, college students who have decided to get a higher education not because they hope for material gain afterward, but because they wish to be taught how to think instead of what to think about. Being able to decide how to think is being able to control what you think and how to be conscious of what you choose to pay attention to. The reason we decide to attend college may differ among individuals, but let us all share the goal of wanting to be able to decide what has valuable meaning and what doesn’t. Let us be able to choose what is water and what is not.
Hopefully, this will help you be conscious and decisive when you open Facebook and see another trending topic.