Empathy explained by David Foster Wallace

UPDATE: "Vimeo has removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust claiming that this material is infringing: THIS IS WATER - By David Foster Wallace."

Here's a beautifully made video accompaniment to "This is Water," an excerpt from a David Foster Wallace commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, in which Wallace exhorts his listeners to empathize with the people around them, using examples and languages so beautifully chosen that they just about break your heart.

But most days, 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 kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, 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 what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address - May 21, 2005

(via Lifehacker)