Human Qualities

Human Qualities

Human Qualities


An excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water” to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College:


“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?’ ”


Now if this were to happen in a modern human setting, would we go as far as calling these young fish as “stupid” or empty headed, due to the fact that they are completely oblivious that they are actually surrounded by water? Lack of awareness is often confused as lack of intelligence. A student who studies in a boarding school might be more aware of his or her career opportunities in the future giving them more motivation to do well in school compared to a student studying in the outskirts of Sabah whose version of future is only within a 1000 metre parameter from his house. This is where the role of education comes into play. Education is defined as means of gaining knowledge which is essentially important for the advancement of human life. However, is knowledge alone enough?


In a world that revolves around money, the institutionalisation of knowledge, and of education is inevitable. Modern institutions that go by the name of ‘university’ charges high tuition fees for the sake of giving us the chance to have “an education”. This has caused more fortunate human beings with more privileged backgrounds to have easier access to gaining a high level education compared to others. Overtime, this leads us to believe that we are of a higher worth than some people and deserve a well paying job to match our highly competitive university degree. Although examinations and pointers throughout our school/university system are important as a means of initiative, it should never define us or define “education”. In reality, education has almost nothing to do with knowledge but more to do with the simple awareness of our surroundings. For example, if a person with a first class degree in Mechanical Engineering is unable to treat the cashier lady nicely and fails to understand that maybe the lady behind the counter has had a long tiring day at work just like he had in his office, then his first class degree would be pretty pointless and we would no go as far as calling that person well-educated.


To become aware of the fact that we are all human, and we possess the same qualities is the key to having a real education. A real education has little or almost nothing to do with knowledge but is more focused on the simple awareness of our surroundings, or rather, the application of knowledge, as well as the realisation that it is not always about me or you but us, collectively as human beings. This awareness, as simple as it may sound, is quite difficult to achieve and is something that we will have to deal with as long as we live. I guess it is true what they say, that education is a life-long process, and every single one of us should be entitled to an education. Thus, it is our responsibility, the ones who are privileged enough to be more aware by being able to own a computer, having internet access to read self-help articles or access to revision books etc. It is our responsibility to spread the awareness and keep reminding ourselves and tell others of the reality, that this is water.




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