The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. — Bertrand Russell
When I recently found a YouTube version of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, I was not surprised to see the 1.5 million “hits” to date. This became one of my personal favorites when its transcript appeared in my inbox soon after its presentation. Just in case, it hasn’t landed in your email — I include it below:
I was reminded watching this speech of a quote by Bertrand Russell, a 20th century British philosopher and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. At the beginning of his autobiography, written in his 80’s, he states:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy…With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine…Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
Job and Russell remind us that love, curiosity and recognition of our mortality are great allies in playing well. When these are ignited within me, I find that I usually play at my best. First, loving what I am doing and who I am serving opens my heart. Curiosity gets my head into the game. Then remembering death and suffering are part of the human being program, centers me into my body and circumstances.
How can we engage these three passions, as Russell calls them, each day? We can pose Steve Job’s question of “If this was your last day on earth would you spend your day as it is planned?” I like to check if what I am doing both brings me joy and has substance. What daily practices assure that you are playing well as Jobs and Russell describe?