Via PJM, I just read the transcript of David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon. Even if you think he's irritating, which I do about half the time, this is worth reading.
Here's the part I really liked:
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
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 your 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 that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
I've had a series of conversations lately about this, in connection with my own professional reflections, about which maybe I'll write more later. I didn't think I worshipped my intellect, but I was beginning to. I think it's hard to be a lawyer without a certain amount of intellect -worshipping. I didn't think I worshipped money or power, but walking away from a path that promised those things has been harder than I wish it were.
But the point David Foster Wallace makes is so important. We get to choose, each day, what to worship. It's good to recognize that we have that choice. And it's good to consider whether choosing something that will eat us alive makes any sense at all.