Thursday, March 22, 2012


A friend on Facebook recently posted this famous quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

This inspirational quote is taken from his commencement address at Standord University in 2005, and upon Jobs' death a few months ago it was dusted off as an example of the way he lived.

The only problem is, anybody who listens to that quote and adopts what it says is failing to adhere to the advice it gives.  The person who hears that message and walks away with an elated heart, thinking, that's exactly how I'm going to approach life, is, to draw from the quote itself, adhering to "the results of other people's thinking."  The noise of Jobs' opinion is drowning out the hearer's own inner voice.

It's like the advice my uncle gave my wife and me on our wedding day.  "As newlyweds and future parents," he said, "you're going to get a lot of advice from all kinds of people on every little aspect of married life.  Don't listen to any of it.  Chart your own course, and follow it."  He then grinned and added, "In other words, ignore everybody's advice, except for what I'm telling you right now."

On the surface, both of these messages sound like a genuine nugget of wisdom.  But the concept it promotes - unfailing reliance on one's own self - is insidiously dangerous, in that it can lead a soul into the isolation of the self, rejection of God, and risking final damnation.

One of the compelling truths I discovered on my way into the Catholic Church is that history is filled with all kinds of people wiser than me.  I realized with a shock the pure arrogance of Protestant theology which empowers the individual Christian to discern absolute truth for him/herself.  This deception is based on the Scripture verse promising that the Spirit of Truth would lead us into truth, but when one person's truth contradicts anothers, it's clear that at least one of them has been misled.

I propose that the deeper and purer teaching would be to discern whose wisdom is genuine and to follow the teachings and examples of those people.  As a Catholic I willfully rely on the inherited wisdom of the Saints and Doctors of the Church, and with eagerness I adjust the way I live based on this revelation. Jobs brushes the edge of this Truth with his quote, but he is missing the full reality of it.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up best way back in 1926, regarding his own journey to Catholicism, when he quipped:

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. In these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a religion. These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist even without the creed.... They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.

The key question is simple: Who has the final word on what is true?  And just as key is one's individual response to that question, for if one admits to an authority outside of one's own self, must not that same person conform his or her life to the demands of that authority?

Apple is well known for branding its products after the self: iPhone, iPad, iPod... I, I, I.  It's clear how Jobs' philosophy of the primacy of self has impacted his brand and the culture it permeates.