After finishing exams and thus rendering all the term’s work effectively redundant, teachers, as I’m sure you’d know, simply can’t be stuffed teaching. It is via this phenomenon that I chanced upon a man named David Foster Wallace.
My English teacher*, who can only be described as a living, breathing chimera (what with the head of a lab technician and the body of a Schwarzenegger fanboy) attempted to enlighten us as to the true meaning of “compassion”. He left the bulk of the actual lesson to YouTube, and it is in this way that I became acquainted with the late novellist.
Wallace, who suffered depression for the bulk of his short life, was a truly gifted writer and essayist, even having one of his novels, Infinite Jest, announced as one of the Top 100 Novels since 1923 by Time magazine. He published it when he was just thirty-three.
The video** depicted Wallace giving a commencement speech to a class of college graduates. In true prodigious fashion, it was in no way typical. He enforced that, whilst one may scoff at the idea of being taught how to “think”, it is not about “thinking” per se, but literally how and what we choose to think about.
I was awakened to how egocentric us humans really are. Using clear-cut examples, Wallace illustrates that, while we don’t like to admit it, our internal monologues are constantly focussed upon ourselves, showing total disregard for the rest of humanity. When I actually stopped and listened to myself (which you should do too the next time someone cuts you off on the road), I realised this to be true.
Thus, to be compassionate, we must learn to change this “default setting”, change our way of thinking. What you would previously see as a negative experience or chore can be totally reversed if you change how your look at your peers.
So I urge you to consider others’ circumstances before going off at them. Put them first, change your perspective, for, no matter what you think, this is the only real way to be truly compassionate.
*You’ll no doubt be hearing more of him, for he’s actually a personal-trainer-turned-English-fanatic, which I must admit is pretty cool.
**which can be view here.