This Is Water



The Speech

When I was a high school senior, I remember a friend showing me a speech. It was called This Is Water, given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005. It is something I’ve thought about probably every week since the day I saw it. 

At its core, This Is Water is an elegant metaphor for resisting the urge to make assumptions.

The reality is that people are complex, kaleidoscopic combinations of experiences, dreams, fears, passions and more. That's why one of the most divisive types of thinking is the assumption of someone else’s incompetence. In short, “labeling” or “putting someone in a box.” The error is in assuming that your worldview ( in this case, your fish-world perspective from the deep blue sea)  is compatible with that of another person. 

You might call it naïve realism, or an impoverished theory of mind, or just that it’s pretty dang hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In any case, the This Is Water speech speaks a deep and essential truth: despite our differences, we can never abandon our utmost respect for the fact that other people’s beliefs are not just "nonsensical"; they come from somewhere - that person's life experience.

In the workplace, the study group and at the DMV, understanding this will constantly help you in the complex work of being a human. 


Link to the full speech here: