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As far as speeches go, David Foster Wallaces This is Water is a

masterful work that elicits deep thought about freedom and how to
conquer a mundane life. As far as commencement speeches go, This is
Water is more depressing than inspiring. You may not share this opinion,
but I am free to express it. Why? Some may answer that basic human
rights guarantee my ability to speak freely, but is speech ever truly free?
Because of societal expectations and judgements, true freedom only
comes in the form of the personal communication one has with oneself.
A persons thoughts and journal entries are two such examples of
self-communication. Only when we think that no one else is listening to an
idea is it truly free. Societal expectations, encompassed by terms such as
political correctness, success, and normalcy to name a few, are the reason
that communication with oneself is the only true example of freedom. Each
of these terms are often viewed in a positive light. In reality, they place
limitations on freedom. This is because social settings are a playing field
where the end goal is a positive reputation. Being liked by others is not
only emotionally beneficial, it is also a strategic business move that opens
opportunities (a common idiom attests to this is: its not what you know,
its who you know). This need to be liked creates either a conscious or
unconscious filter between what a person truly thinks and what they
express. Even those who reject society through rebellion (example:
hipsters) operate under a social agenda. They say what they say to create
an impression of who they are (or want to be).
I have kept a journal sporadically since tenth grade. This is where I
feel the freest; that is, it was until I moved to college where I live in a
building with hundreds of others, many of whom frequent my bedroom to
do homework or socialize. This change in comfort attests to my view that
social interaction with another person results in a filter. Back home when I
would journal, I knew no one would ever see it and felt free to explore the
relational dramas I personally faced or learned of from others. I could write
what made me happy, sad, guilty, or excited without the fear of judgement
or hurting others. Here, there is always the possibility my book will be read
and my thoughts exposed, so I completely avoid writing about others,
either positively or negatively. We censor what we know will be seen by
others; we also censor what we think will be seen by others.
Freedom is a persons (or things) purest essence. It is their thoughts
and opinions when no one is listening. It is their actions when no one will
ever know them or their consequences. According to Wallace in This is

Water, freedom is the ability to care deeply and unconditionally about a


person, even to the point of making personal sacrifices for them. In other
words, freedom is providing for a person even if others never know,
including the person you care and did the action for. In this way, our views
of freedom align.
The idea that I hold that freedom is thought also comes up in
Wallaces speech when he describes how perception of the same scene
can be altered by a persons thoughts surrounding said scene. Wallace
argues that thoughts can be directed in a way that either makes a situation
unbearable or so that you can empathize with a person. This idea that
there are different types of thoughts and that one is better than another
contradicts the idea that thought equals freedom. In true freedom, a
person is allowed to think how they want, in any way they want. However,
Wallace is right in that the latter train of thought promotes happier living.
Despite knowing this, Wallace himself suffered from depression and
eventually committed suicide. Freedom is thought, and sometimes
freedom is overwhelming.
My own life didnt have to work out the way it has. Ive won every
possible lottery: the cortical lottery in that my predisposition is towards
happiness rather than pessimism. The familial lottery with two parents
happily married and two sisters whove always been my best friends. The
lottery of location and the privilege of middle-class first world living. For
every instance of success, failure was an equally viable option, and yet it
wasnt. External circumstances determine a lot about who we are and how
we think. However, how we think isnt really the issue: freedom is the
ability to think rather than what the thoughts themselves include.
A counterargument for my claim that thought is the ultimate freedom
may be that guilt from unsolicited thoughts constrains you and makes you
want to change them. Thoughts equal freedom, not perfection, and in
freedom we are free to think negative thoughts or free to change our
thinking altogether if thats what we think is necessary.
So if thought is freedom, what of all the other freedoms we as
Americans live by? What of the freedom of speech or right to protest?
These are freedoms outlined by society, not true freedom, because they
are not universally recognized and, even if they were, they would be
influenced by the need I previously mentioned for humans to fit in.
Thought may not always seem free, especially in war torn nations where
propaganda, the government, and threats of harm to you or your family are

telling you what to think. At the end of the day though, the choice is yours
whether or not you actually believe the thoughts they promote, or if you
put on an external front that your thoughts align the right way. Basic
human rights like those outlined in the constitution promote true freedom
in that they outline safety measures for unconventional thought, but on
their own are not examples of freedom. Under the premise that freedom is
thought, all humans are already free. Instead of freedom, we are
promoting comfort and safety. We are encouraging others to think.
David Foster Wallace introduces interesting ideas of how we should
live freely, but at the end of the day we are already free in our own minds.