What the hell is water

Two fridays ago, a long time reader of this blog shared a speech that she said was her absolute favorite. It was around 4am and I was preparing my introduction for a learning session on values later that morning that I’d helped organize. But, as she said it was her absolute favorite, I searched for a transcript of the video and found it. It was a David Foster Wallace commence speech titled “This is Water.”

I’m glad I did.

The speech is so good that it is impossible to do it justice in one post. So, I thought I’d begin by sharing the short story that he starts with.


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?”

The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.


After reading this, I re-wrote my introduction for the session and built it around this story. It is so wonderfully deep and insightful.

Days later, I keep thinking about it from time to time. It is very hard to be 100% conscious and present in this world. When we do manage to do that, we realize that everything we consider normal is nothing short of miraculous. We are all walking miracles. This is incredible. And, it is on us to make it meaningful, to make it count.

This is water.

7 thoughts on “What the hell is water

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