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Some folks have made this wonderful video using an audio recording of David Foster Wallace’s now famous commencement speech This Is Water:
Feel free to check out the entire speech.
Not long ago, I recall being frustrated at seemingly trivial things: traffic, delays, long lines, slow moving lines (or worse, being in a slow moving line next to a faster moving line.) I can’t quite put my finger on when I started changing but now it is rare for me to get frustrated. It comes down to how we think—or as Wallace puts it—how we choose to think.
Take an everyday example of being late to a meeting. We cut others in traffic, drive impatiently, hop into an elevator a few hundred milliseconds earlier, get annoyed when the folks getting out of the elevator don’t seem to share our urgency—all to save perhaps a few seconds or a minute. I don’t know about you but I have never once attended a meeting where my arriving a minute late would have had any impact whatsoever. Once that realization hits, you cannot be the same person.
As Wallace says, the constant bombardment of banalities in our everyday life is hard to escape. We can however do better. A few tricks work well for me in making a otherwise unhappy or neutral moment into one of fascination.
1. This one’s corny but take a moment to appreciate love. It’s all around you. Old couples, young couples, teenage couples, a dog and and her owner, a mother and daughter, a father and a son, a woman walking her new born.
I still find it immensely fascinating and awesome whenever a living being has love for another. I can’t think of anything that tops it in our experience of being alive.
(Sure, many seemingly loving relationships aren’t perfect and have problems of some sort. But you don’t have to think about that when appreciating love around you.)
2. Wallace touches upon this in his speech: Make up a story for every stranger you come across. Their actions will seem rational and your problems trivial. Take a waiter/waitress who messes up your order. If you know anything about the minimum wages for tipped employees, it should be easy to imagine a median life of a waiter or waitress who has to smile through their problems every day. There’s no fucking way you will ever again be annoyed when your order is late or a bit incorrect.
The old lady at the checkout counter of a grocery store, the lady driving a bit cautiously in her SUV, the young black girl working at a fast food chain: With just a tiny hint from their appearance or body language, you can make up the story of their life. And it doesn’t have to be Dickensian level of pathetic: a person living a normal life with a wife, two kids, a steady job and home in the suburb scares me enough to empathize for him.
No matter how good you are at the above, you will invariably come across assholes. I take the path that causes me the least unhappiness. My happiness is far too precious for a stranger to ruin it. In a weird way, you make him less of an asshole if he can’t make you unhappy. Make sense?
Lift the index finger of your right hand in front of you. Note the point where the tip of your finger meets space. By the time you read this, you are already about a thousand kilometers away from that point. And no human being—past, present or future—will ever be at that point in space again. You were the only human being to ever touch that point in space.
Follow up video here.
Every year National Geographic conducts a poll for the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. The winners in 2012:
Everest guide Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and extreme kayaker Sano Babu Sunuwar were named the People’s Choice Adventurers of the Year for 2012 for their climb to Everest’s summit, record-setting paragliding descent and long-distance kayak from Nepal to the Bay of Bengal in India, the National Geographic Society said today.
Do watch the video. More pictures here.
There were three activities here that required a superhuman effort: Mountaineering up to 29,000 ft., tandem paragliding at that altitude in thin air, and kayaking class V rapids. They had to be beyond excellent at each one of those to complete the journey. And they were. Insane stuff.
I have been told a few times by friends and acquaintances that I inspire them to seek out adventure. To be quite frank, they would do well to take inspiration from those who make me feel very small.
I came across a philosopher with an incredible voice (literally), Alan Watts. He’s a close second after Carl Sagan for voiceovers about larger than life concepts. Here’s one video:
He makes a passing observation that the existence of intelligent life was implied in the Big Bang itself—it just took billions of years to manifest on Earth. Arguments more sophisticated have been made against the existence of free will, many in the realm of neuroscience. But his words, to me, are the simplest argument against free will and for the existence of destiny, albeit retrospective destiny. In that, at the moment of the Big Bang, you were meant to exist some 13.8 billions years after and read this sentence a few years after that.
If you want to go deeper, you and I were part of the Big Bang. We—people, objects, atoms, energy—were all together when that happened.
It’s such a pity I can’t recall any of it.
For perspective, he died in 1973 and his fans have created beautiful videos such as the one above using his audio recordings. Yet there is a timelessness to his observations that they could have just as easily been said yesterday.
Vir Das combines the two things Punjabis like: Men and boobs.
Boobs have to win in the kickass-on-one-gender-but-so-not-on-the-other category.
Well maybe after moustaches.
This is something I’ve been meaning to write for the last few months. I have penned this in a bit of a haste but I hope I haven’t missed any important bits.
Nearly two years ago, I wrote about minimalism and my efforts at applying it in my everyday life. In the process, among other things I cut down on reading most of the blogs/columns I used to read. I tried to read quality content which by definition respected my time as well. I discovered some marvelous writers (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jai Arjun Singh) and read my share of writing that could have been much better. Of late, I’m seeing much more of the could-have-been-much-better variety. I noticed some common themes in such writing. Once I identified them, it was easier for me to skip content that would add nothing to my perspective, or worse, add noise into my thoughts. I have nothing against the writers I’m linking to. I’ll be only happy to read good writing from them in the future.
These are the recurring themes in writing that I avoid because they rarely lead to anything good:
1. It is an overreaction right after an event.
In my experience, any writer who churns out posts right after an event is articulating a visceral reaction or a predetermined opinion, or taking a short-sighted view of the happenings. Writers owe it to themselves if not to their readers to think through events before putting pen on paper.
2. It is common sensical—or something obvious made to sound profound.
Exhibit: The subtitle of this magazine (PDF link) which says, “The existential threat to Pakistan comes from disease, poverty and ignorance and not from India.” Unless the readership is the Pakistani Taliban, they’re preaching to the choir. Andrew Sullivan has a recurring series Poseur Alert for this kind of writing.
2a. It passes off information as knowledge and analysis. Exhibit A: Take this reaction to the Italian Marines trial in India.
The writer is often quoted as a foreign policy analyst in the Indian twitterverse. Note the uses of geopolitical in the post.
“Turning a legal issue into a geopolitical one has raised the stakes and hurt bilateral relations.”
“The action has shifted to the geopolitical domain.”
There is very little geopolitical about the Italian Marines’ case unless by geopolitical, one means foreign or external affairs.
2 and 2a show disrespect to the reader.
While on the subject of Italian Marines, the reason the Italian government refused to send the marines back on March 11th seems clear in hindsight: To negotiate a no death penalty for the marines. How many of the foreign policy wonks, think tank members or regular columnists guessed this? Zero, to my knowledge. (I didn’t guess it either but my shtick is not foreign policy.)
3. It doesn’t add anything to your thinking.
Exhibit that doesn’t do the above: Gautam Patel writing about Ram Singh’s (one of the accused in the Delhi gang-rape) suicide.
There is far more at stake in the Delhi gang-rape case than the fate of individuals. Can our system respond in an appropriate and just manner to such cases? What must we do to ensure the safety of our citizens, and what form should the remedies we must provide take? What is the value of a particular form of punishment?
And most of all, this: that the measure of any just society is not how quickly it deals out an extreme punishment, but how evenly it deals with those who stand accused of the most heinous crimes. This is a collective trial of our society. Allowing, even by inaction, one of the accused to be killed like this robs us all of a chance at redemption.
Emphasis mine. This perspective was fresh to me.
4. It has no inside perspective—or put bluntly, the opinion lacks qualification.
These are not the only exhibits of writing I avoid and not all posts that exhibit one of these traits are worthless. I trust you to be a good judge and read wisely. Happy reading!
There is such a thing as a Punoff and trust me, it’s immense pun:
Some some interesting news from the field of science:
If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension.
It’s going to be a fun time for the species that inhabit the universe. Fun, because this will happen at the speed of light. That is to say, the moment they see it is happening is the moment they disappear.
To elaborate, let’s assume we exist until then and have giant telescopes in every direction to detect where the end is approaching from. (Why we’d do that is another question, for there’s nothing we could do to escape anyway.) Any change happening in the known universe will be brought to us by the light travelling from the point of the change–which is also incidentally, the speed at which the universe will be disappearing. This means the moment we detect that something has changed is the moment we cease to exist.
The end of the universe is not to be confused with the end of our solar system. We will be engulfed by our sun in a little more than 5 billion years. We’ll have sufficient warning for that one. Pack your bags when the sun turns red.
But here’s an interesting question: If you were around then, would you pack and leave the solar system or stay and perish with the earth when the sun vapourizes everything on earth? Or, for the patriotic, perish with/in your country?
(Truth be told, it won’t be a momentary death; it’ll be a long and torturous perishing–think global warming on steroids. For now, assume that the whole thing will happen quickly.)
Remember Isaac Lamb’s wonderful proposal video? He’s back with another one to make you teary eyed (oh come on, it can’t be just me!):
There is an immense pride with which they present their familial relationships. If you see the value in such relationships, this is how you ought to flaunt them. If you’re in, you go all in. We can’t have measured feelings and call ourselves the society with the strongest family bonds.
Speaking for myself, I cannot identify with most relationships besides the immediate family. Frankly, I’d be uncomfortable with so many relatives around me. But it is always a delight to be around close-knit families, whether while travelling or back home. Family gives them happiness, they have realized as much and embraced it well.
Seeing someone who has figured out their pathway to happiness can’t be anything but fulfilling.
These days I’m eager to watch good movies that make me teary eyed (the bar for that is a bit high). My biggest gripe about that excellent movie Silver Linings Playbook was “but .. but it didn’t make me choke up!” This is so ironic considering all those years of being dickish about even mildly sentimental stuff.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is pass on those tissues and movie recommendations.