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David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, “This Is Water,” challenges the conventional ways of thinking and prompts the audience to examine the unconscious patterns that govern their lives. This critical essay delves into Wallace’s profound insights, dissecting his examination of consciousness, empathy, and the importance of choosing how we perceive and interpret the world around us.


The Mundane and the Profound:

Wallace begins by highlighting the banality of everyday life and the tendency to default to self-centered thinking. He urges the audience to break free from the automatic responses and engage in a deliberate act of conscious awareness. By questioning our default perspectives, we can uncover the profound significance that lies within the seemingly ordinary moments of life.

The Power of Perception:

Wallace emphasizes the power of perception in shaping our reality. He argues that we have the ability to choose how we interpret the world and the events that unfold around us. By actively cultivating empathy and understanding, we can overcome our natural inclination towards self-centeredness and embrace a more compassionate and interconnected view of the world.

The Struggle of Consciousness:

Wallace acknowledges the inherent difficulty of maintaining conscious awareness in a society that often encourages mindless conformity. He highlights the challenges of resisting the pull of societal norms and the constant bombardment of distractions. According to Wallace, cultivating conscious awareness is a lifelong struggle that requires effort, discipline, and self-awareness.

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The Illusion of Certainty:

Wallace exposes the illusion of certainty that often pervades our thinking. He challenges the notion that our personal perspectives and beliefs are absolute truths, urging the audience to remain open to alternative viewpoints and interpretations. By embracing intellectual humility and recognizing the limitations of our own understanding, we can foster intellectual growth and engage in meaningful dialogue with others.

The Importance of Education:

Wallace underscores the role of education in expanding our consciousness and developing critical thinking skills. He argues that education is not merely about acquiring knowledge but also about cultivating the ability to think independently and question the assumptions that underpin our worldview. Through education, we can break free from the constraints of our default modes of thinking and embrace a more expansive and empathetic perspective.

The Challenge of Everyday Life:

Wallace acknowledges the inherent difficulties of maintaining conscious awareness in the face of the mundane challenges of everyday life. He recognizes that it is easy to revert to autopilot mode when confronted with the monotony and frustrations of daily routines. However, he encourages the audience to view these moments as opportunities for growth and transformation, urging them to choose their responses and find meaning even in the most ordinary circumstances.


David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” serves as a wake-up call, challenging us to question our default modes of thinking and embrace conscious awareness in our daily lives. Through his profound insights, Wallace urges us to cultivate empathy, challenge our assumptions, and choose how we perceive and engage with the world. By recognizing the power of conscious awareness, we can break free from the limitations of our own perspectives and lead more meaningful, compassionate lives.

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