There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’
David Foster Wallace that is, not to be confused with one hell-acious southern airport. This quote is best used when people have trouble seeing past cultural differences or even just personal differences.
This quote opens a commencement speech given by DFW to Kenyon College a few years before his (untimely seems too understated) untimely death. This comic opener has more philosophy in one word of it than many writers could even dream of. It is perfection’s essence.
The simplicity and the multiple applications the quote has makes it a favorite of mine to twirl around in thought every so often.
In conjunction with this, I once had a fantastic professor who taught sociology and psychology and history and philosophy all at once. (This works; I promise.) He would always remind us, before unleashing some world view shattering morsel of knowledge, to “get out of our fishbowl.”
It seems two brilliant people, DFW and my professor, both have same idea. This is not a coincidence, I assure you.
Uh oh….it’s rant and preach time.
The relevance of this quote in our current world (A bit broad, I know. Think Western over developed society…) is in relation to the effects of globalization on a species that has evolved to be egocentric. In a world where my thoughts can reach people I’ve never met and most likely never will meet, the cultural bias and categorization of living things is fundamentally hindering our development as a global society.
Next time you hear something unusual from your habits, think about getting out of your fish bowl. Think perhaps you are a fish that doesn’t realize water because water is all around you.
If it’s still unusual….call for help.