David Foster Wallace, in this 2005 commencement address at Kenyon, speaks of a liberal arts education in terms of what might be called intentional attentiveness.
In the first part of the speech, DFW himself speaks of the need to be
“conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience” (at 8:18).
His point, in part, is that we need to consciously and conscientiously break ourselves of our “default settings,” which most often means stepping outside of our narcissistic selves in order to imagine our way into the experience of others. Our default setting, he says, is to be “uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out” (9:20).
(Strangely enough, at the end of part I (at 8:55), he appeals to the idea that most people who commit suicide with a firearm shoot themselves in the head, an indication, he suggests, that they are attempting to kill the master, the prison that their mind has become. I say “strangely” here because DFW himself committed suicide in 2008, three years after giving this address. He hanged himself.)
Here is part II:
To learn how to think is to learn how to pay attention. ”You get to decide what to worship” (7:51). What do you worship? Does what you worship “eat you alive” or does it enrich your life? DFW suggests you learn to worship the real freedom a liberal arts education makes possible:
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race”–the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.