David Foster Wallace on Empathy and Stranger-respect

David Foster Wallace is a talented writer who killed himself.
I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.
He seems to have thought he could be happy if he were only less cynical.
My natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
That’s human nature. We’re naturally geared to be effective, not happy. To really be empathetic requires either honest adherence to a “spiritual” belief system, or successful pleasure-guided experiments in perspective.

It surely costs to empathize too much. And I’d rather keep my own identity than become part of a same-feeling mob. But empathy is a fantastic tool.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.
Whatever works. Of course there’s no literal mystical oneness, but if that’s how you describe your favorite feel-good perspective, I understand.