Delight Springs

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sad young pessimists

One of yesterday morning's CoPhi reports featured the late David Foster Wallace's Kenyon commencement speech. The epitome of  intelligence and wisdom, he tells his young audience, is not knowledge but awareness. With awareness comes attention, perspective, sympathy, solidarity, and kindness. Without it, we lose our grip.
Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
How ironic & tragic that the brilliant and hyper-aware DFW couldn't continue to hold it together himself. As he so poignantly says here, sustaining awareness and keeping your perspective over a lifetime is hard. But it's doable. And it's necessary. This also reminds me of the form of Stoic intelligence, along with multiple others mentioned by Howard Gardner.

A later report yesterday afternoon noted a troubling trend in recent scifi, away from hopeful visions of the future of the sort we associate with the humanism of Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy's Spock. I think awareness may be the cure for that too. There's nothing sadder, as Mark Twain said, than a young pessimist... except a bright and talented young pessimist. 

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