“Two young fish are swimming along and meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a while and eventually one of them looks over at the other and says ‘What the hell is water?’” So said author David Foster Wallace in the opening of his commencement speech at Kenyon College. It’s the perfect illustration of how easy it is to forget that the exact same experience can mean totally different things to different people.
Think about the office. When others react strangely to something you say or do, it may simply be that you’re thinking in different terms and you simply aren’t aware of it. Our default mindset is to assume that others share our beliefs. That can lead us to waste a boatload of time and energy being angry or worrying about what someone meant, when what we heard was actually just a difference in experience or expression.
How we construct meaning is a matter of personal, intentional choice. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Staying aware of the “water” is a good first step.