Beginning to see what is really around us, to sense the pain or happiness that motivates every action is tough. Even tougher is drowning out the sound of our own inherent assumptions that we, above everyone else, are important. Finding a balance between deriving goals and ensuring we aren’t falling into an endless trap is something that David Foster Wallace attempts to capture. Above these goals and our motivation is something much more profound, something human. The essence of accomplishment, and the need to accomplish comes from the idea that we have value. That we, unlike everyone else, are different. And yet, in his commencement address, he doesn’t try to convince everyone to see their own value. He doesn’t falsify or glorify what the future has to hold, instead he tells us to reconsider that instinct that drives every frustration and motivation.
To call it selfishness, would be inaccurate. In some respects, we have to consider ourselves the center in order to survive. However, as modern development has made immediate competition for resources less urgent; the urgency of our own importance has also become less relevant. And yet, we still see only ourselves in each situation that affects us. The simple idea of learning to relate to, understand, and become aware of what’s around us shouldn’t be too hard. But it is, and it likely always will be. “Mind your own business,” is something that, whether we realize it or not, is an innate response to our surroundings. Listening to our heads droll on with negativity only isolates us from others. Somewhere, in the mess of our insecurities, thoughts, and sense of self importance, we must find what really matters.
I can’t say I disagree with any argument that Wallace presents. Reminding ourselves to be conscious; finding a balance between utter-confidence and outer consciousness will always be something I struggle with. In his address, he so effortlessly captures why we need to have both. He doesn’t offer a reward for this change, this analysis of self in relation to others. Never does he tell us that we’ll be more positive people, or successful people, or more capable people. Because any gratifications only motivate us back into the belief that we matter the most.
The reality is that becoming aware of others will make life a whole lot less meaningful for our selfish aspirations, but a whole lot more meaningful when it comes to trying to empathize with others. When we’re running strides through high school for grades that will get us into the next race, it’s time we recognize our own insignificance; to remind ourselves that, we, alone, are no more important than our neighbors. It’s hard to pause and take a breath when we’re always trying to win some intangible prize. However when we begin to look in our peripheral view, we’ll see that some people have broken lanes or more obstacles in their way.