Beginner's Mind David Wallace Summary

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Essay #2 Through exploring four separate texts, including 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address by David Wallace, Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie by Bob Dylan, The Man in a Case by Anton Chekhov, and finally Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, a reoccuring theme emerged which strikes at one of the core questions of the human condition. Each text grapples with an unfortunate truth; people are often unhappy. These writers are concerned with picking apart the reasons for this feeling and attempt to describe the circumstances that cause people to feel unsatisfied with their day to day lives. With a focus on understanding what causes our perspectives to skew in this way, another question appears. What is it that these authors are trying to…show more content…
To these authors, how we perceive the world around us is the root cause of this foggy, miserable mindset we function within. Wallace speaks at length about our self-centered nature, as “we rarely think about this … natural, basic self-centeredness” (Wallace 3) because of the social stigma surrounding it (Wallace 3). He assumes that our instinctual inward focus prohibits people from being aware of what is going on right in front of them, as illustrated by the fish anecdote shared in the beginning of his speech. Wallace warns that people are too caught up in themselves, and that education is the best tool to utilize in order to break out of these self-centered mindsets. Wallace proposes doing this by explaining education as “learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience” (Wallace 4). Wallace’s opinion introduces the concept that in order to be free from our self-imposed, perpetual state of irritation, we must exercise control in our thinking and make a conscious effort to direct out thoughts in positive ways. The contrast between the understanding of freedom and control would initially lead one to believe that they could not exist together, but the message of this essay is that you must have one in order to achieve the other.
Suzuki seems to be hinting at a similar phenomenon.
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However, Chekhov approached this opinion in a different manner, by creating a short story in which the character of Belikov is the epitome of self centeredness, the human manifestation of Wallace’s “default setting”. Wallace shares that “Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education … is that it enables my tendency to over intellectualize stuff” (Wallace 4). This is a perfect description of Belikov. Belikov, a teacher, is one whom others would expect to be well educated, and therefore theoretically capable of being free of his default setting, as Wallace says education is key in order to achieve this. However, Belikov is so limited in his perspective that he is unable to view any situations beyond how they may negatively impact him. His self-centered perspective was so ingrained that he was completely unable to fathom the idea that not every action will have a negative impact, or that some sort of “evil will come of it” (Chekhov 176). When Belikov spoke to Kovalenko in The Man in the Case, he was so paranoid about any negative consequence on himself that he declared “Somebody may have overheard us, and to prevent our conversation from being misinterpreted, and the possible consequence of this, I shall have to report our conversation to the Headmaster” (Chekhov 183). His chronic sense of self interest caused him to go out of his way to prevent anything from reflecting badly on him. He forced this focus on potential

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