Recent talk of the cor­re­spon­dence bias (here) reminded me of pos­si­bly the best com­mence­ment speech that I’ve not yet writ­ten about (and I’ve writ­ten about quite a few): David Fos­ter Wallace’s com­mence­ment address to the grad­u­ates of Kenyon Col­lege in 2005.

The speech, often cited as Wallace’s only pub­lic talk con­cern­ing his world­view, was adapted fol­low­ing his death into a book titled This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Deliv­ered on a Sig­nif­i­cant Occa­sion, About Liv­ing a Com­pas­sion­ate Life and is essen­tial read­ing for any­one inter­ested in per­sonal choice: the choice of think­ing and act­ing in a way con­trary to our self-centered “default” worldview.

Actu­ally, scrap that, it’s just essen­tial read­ing for everyone.

Because the traf­fic jams and crowded aisles and long check­out lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a con­scious deci­sion about how to think and what to pay atten­tion to, I’m gonna be pissed and mis­er­able every time I have to shop. Because my nat­ural default set­ting is the cer­tainty that sit­u­a­tions like this are really all about me. About MY hun­gri­ness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like every­body else is just in my way. And who are all these peo­ple in my way? And look at how repul­sive most of them are, and how stu­pid and cow-like and dead-eyed and non­hu­man they seem in the check­out line, or at how annoy­ing and rude it is that peo­ple are talk­ing loudly on cell phones in the mid­dle of the line. And look at how deeply and per­son­ally unfair this is. […]

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the free­way, fine. Lots of us do. Except think­ing this way tends to be so easy and auto­matic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my nat­ural default set­ting. It’s the auto­matic way that I expe­ri­ence the bor­ing, frus­trat­ing, crowded parts of adult life when I’m oper­at­ing on the auto­matic, uncon­scious belief that I am the cen­tre of the world, and that my imme­di­ate needs and feel­ings are what should deter­mine the world’s priorities.

To read the speech I rec­om­mend the ver­sion from More Intel­li­gent Life linked above as it is true to the speech as it was given. If you pre­fer a slightly more edited read, The Wall Street Jour­nal’s copy and The Guardian’s copy may be more to your taste.