The Stanford Commencement Speech
Such a wonderful, thought-provoking piece! I really enjoyed how you worked in your personal experiences around facing possible death along with Steve's nuanced journey. Bravo.
Fascinating essay, Chris. So interesting your parallels between Steve, negative/positive space, and your own experience. It indeed is love, not death, the greatest invention of mankind. This is a massive piece, full of precious references and brilliant ideas. And your personal story, and what happened to you, is truly inspirational. It says 24min reading on top, but I took my time and went much slower, as this piece deserves. Thank you for writing this. I sense I will return to it over and over again.
Hi Chris. I haven’t been on Substack in a loooong time and I just read your essay. Twice. First, I hope that you are doing ok health wise. Sending you positive thoughts.
It’s brilliant that you connected the positive/negative space with the philosophy of life, visual images, business motto, relationships and life experiences in general. Your talent for elucidating the esoteric made me think deeper about the connections I can make between all the dots in life.
That being said, my understanding of Steve Jobs’ take on death was a bit different than yours. I don’t know much about the man, haven’t listened to the speech, and am only basing my thought on the excerpts of his words included in the essay. He uses the words “tool” and “agent” for change to describe death. Not a "source" of motivation. I believe that in the Buddhist tradition, death is a catalyst for change: from this life to the after life, from the after life to the next life. Reincarnation is at the core of the Buddhist belief, and only through death can you reincarnate. Hence, death as the agent of change as Jobs describes. And as you brilliantly say that we create positive space out of negative space, my sense was that Steve Jobs advocated for love as motivation (positive space), whilst death (negative space) made him change his position in life. (I'm assuming mostly perspective and timing wise).
My family, from both my parents sides, is devout Buddhists but I never was particularly religious at any point in my life. And in the past couple years, Ive developed an interest in Christianity. Which means that my knowledge of both religion is rather shallow. But it seems that Christian Gospel is explicitly centered around love, whilst Buddhist tenet revolves around harmony with the surrounding. At the core, the central message is the same - respect and care for other people. But the passion and love as cultivated by the Christian tradition is rather different from the more “dispassionate” philosophy of harmony, nurtured by Buddhism. And that distinction seems to make the difference between civilizations, but having read your essay, it sounds like Steve Jobs took the best out of both worlds and made the best for him.
Look forward to reading more from you.
This was a delight to read, so well woven together. It also made me realise that, in my own life, brushes with death (either through contemplation or experience) have tended to take me 'away' from life, towards other realms, spiritual seeking, mysticism etc. Conversely, love has been more about returning to life: turning towards those I care for, embedding myself in a community or a place, finding work I am passionate about etc. I also find that death comes suddenly, as an interruption, while love feels like an undercurrent that's always there but just needs to be allowed in. Thank you for putting this out in the world and catalyzing these realizations in me.
Very insightful piece. I imagine Steve Jobs wanting to influence the future was a part of it: if he was as visionary as they say - and I'll take people's word for it - he wouldn't have viewed his activity as just tinkering with a computer. And in America it's common to live for work.
With writers though, I think of Anthony Burgess. He was told he'd die of cancer in a year in the late 50s, and went into a writing frenzy so that he could get novels published. That way, his family could live off the royalties. He ended up living until the 90s, fortunately. But that writing spurt produced A Clockwork Orange. Incidentally, Burgess never liked that that novel was his famous one. Perhaps it had something to do with writing knowing that life has been held onto vs. writing in preparation for death?
I thought before I answered your email, I should read through your posts! Here are my own thoughts on mortality - the only time I faced it: http://robinstonsilcancerblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/why-not-me-and-other-random-thoughts-on.html The bottom line: while I agree with your focus on love as the best guide for each day's journey, I also think that the cycle of life is a wondrous thing and should be fully appreciated and celebrated. I think one can do both simultaneously.
Incredible piece. ✨I really enjoy how you connected your own dots between the speech, Steve Jobs life and your own journey. It reminds me of the book ‘The Last Lecture.’
This quote especially resonated with me:
‘We can’t connect dots in advance.’