Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pausch and Wallace

I like smart lecturers because they teach me new things

I love listening to smart people. Some express abstract concepts with ease, others can distill facts from fiction, and few may even influence the way you think. It's great when you have one of those "damn why did I never think of that before" moments. When it happens, you automatically know that the person is worth paying careful attention to. You also know that these people don't come along often. Everyone has their own list of speakers and lecturers that influenced them, mine includes Randy Pausch and David Foster Wallace.

Found Here
The first smart lecturer is Randy Pausch. He was given an opportunity to present a lecture at Carnegie Mellon where he was teaching at the time. The lecture was traditionally called the "Last Lecture", the idea being what would you share if this was your last chance to share knowledge with the world. However in 2006 he was diagnosed with a terminal form of pancreatic cancer, so this really would be the last lecture he would give. Before his lecture he commented on the irony that the "Last Lecture" series had recently been renamed "Journeys":"I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it." The lecture is filled with similar jokes, Pausch's attempt to address the elephant in the room (Entire Video Of Lecture).

There is bound to be something that everyone can take from this lecture. The one thing that stuck with me, which is also a recurring theme in the lecture, is something that Pausch calls the "Brick Wall"; The brick walls are there not to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough.

Found Here
The line is good because its true, the people who work the hardest are the ones that get what they want. That's what separates the great from the ordinary, not necessarily who's the brightest, but who is willing to prevail. The second comment that struck me was, wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you, when people piss you off or make you angry you just haven't given them enough time...Just give them a little more time and they'll almost always impress you. 

I found this line particularly helpful because I'm quick to judge, and my first impression is as indelible as stone. I remind myself of this general idea whenever I meet someone I dislike for whatever reason. I'm hoping one day it will become automatic, for now the personal reminder will have to do.

Found Here
The second smart lecturer is David Foster Wallace. My two favorite things he's written are Consider the Lobster (The feature essay takes place at the Maine Lobster Festival where Wallace considers the moral dilemma of eating meat), and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (This feature essay discusses the excessive pampering and psychological stress that he encounters of a cruise). However my favorite thing Wallace did was his commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005 (Full Address Here). The main points of the address are the value of a liberal arts education and the importance of knowing how to thing. His address really shouldn't be taken of context...but here are my favorite lines anyway!

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship you intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not they they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

This is meaningful to me because its easy to get lost its ones brain, especially in the belief that your opinion is the right opinion. While growing up I felt I was somehow in competition with others for this ridiculous concept of cerebral dominance, naturally some insecurities popped up. Wallace manages to distill my experience (and possibly his own) into the perfect the words. Another great pong Wallace makes is regarding the significance of awareness. Simply it's the importance of being aware of yourself and the world around you.

 The capital-T truth is about life before death. It is the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us...

Wallace acknowledges difficultly of being aware of our default settings, however by staying conscious we are putting our educations to use and ultimately becoming better people. Though the address wasn't directed towards me I feel like its message is directly applicable to my life, regardless of my major or freshmen status. Especially so after the final line of the address,

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another cliche turns out to be true: your education really is the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck


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