Mourning Two People I Never Met
It’s a daily occurrence that we hear of famous people, business leaders and the like who die. Call me cold hearted, but I rarely have any kind of emotional response to these events. After all, why should I feel emotionally vested in the death of someone I’ve never met?
Yesterday evening, as I was driving home from the airport after a speaking engagement in Orlando, I heard on NPR of the death of a civil rights icon (and Cincinnati resident) Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. A true freedom fighter in every sense of the word, Rev. Shuttlesworth was one of the icons of the fight for equality in America. I was moved to tears as I heard recordings of a few of his speeches and heard those who were with him in Alabama in the 1950’s share their memories of his determination to end segregation, or be ended by it.
Upon entering my home and greeting my family, I made my way to my home office to drop off my bag and saw a tweet from Dan Pink that simply contained the URL “Apple.com“. I thought perhaps Apple had belatedly announced something related to the previous day’s iPhone event. Unfortunately, I was greeted with the news of Steve Jobs’ death.
A one-two punch to my gut. I cried. It was simply too much.
Why did I feel such an emotional connection with two people I’d never met? Rev. Shuttlesworth lived a long life, well into his 80’s, and Steve Jobs died at a relatively young age, only 56, but each had managed in his time to take hold of some unrealized space in me that was now fighting its way to the surface through my emotional response.
I reflected on these things last night, and came to a few conclusions. While there are tremendous differences between the missions of each man, they shared common traits that I believe caused my sense of affinity.
I am moved when other people bend their life to a vision that goes beyond just them. Rev. Shuttlesworth put himself in harm’s way consistently in order to fight for what he believed in. Steve Jobs’ obsessive focus on getting it “right” caused him to alienate more than a few employees and competitors, but there was no mistaking his passion for, and singular focus on, making brilliant products. Each was willing to pay the price to accomplish his vision. One fought for equality and freedom, and the other gave freedom of expression to millions of people by building platforms and making intuitive marketplace leaps. Each succeeded.
I did not know either man, but from what I’ve read about their lives each embraced the ethic of “dying empty.” Steve Jobs expressed this in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, and Rev. Shuttlesworth regularly stated in interviews that he was fully prepared to die in his fight for equality and the end of segregation.
And I think that’s why I was so moved by the sudden news they had each passed. Each man, in his own way, has changed my life. I never knew them, but each served as a beacon to me of what it looks like to empty yourself everyday in the pursuit of something that matters. For that, I’m forever indebted.
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More