I recently upgraded to the premium version of Evernote. I had been putting this off for some time, but I was convinced to do so during Tim Ferriss’ interview of Phil Libin, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Evernote.
I would also recommend subscribing to Tim’s podcast, The Four Hour Podcast. In his own words,
Each episode, I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics and tricks you can use.
Tim “deconstructs” successful people from a range of fields, looking for the routines and equipment, etc, that help them to achieve greatness. I am always left inspired with big ideas and small lifestyle hacks at the end of his interviews.
I listened to Tim’s interview with Phil Libin and found Phil’s story both interesting and challenging. Phil is very thoughtful and applies his thoughtfulness to his business interests as much as to his life.
I was especially interested when he made the following statement:
I’m not particularly religious, in the sense I’m not theistic. I am very interested in having a coherent philosophy of life, a coherent structure that basically says, “Here is why you should bother living, here is what you should try to accomplish, and here is what it all means.”
I am sure that most thoughtful people would resonate with his sentiments here, as I do.
Tim pressed Phil further on this point, seeking clarification. He asked Phil, “Why is that important to you? What does it allow you to do or help you do?”
It kind of frames everything, gives a reason for things. […]
I want to have a reason for things. I don’t want to feel like I’m doing things shrouded by this existential mystery. I want to think that, I want to have a structure to think about why I am making certain decisions and having a coherent philosophy makes that possible.
Tim then asked,
So, a coherent philosophy, would it be comparable to, in some ways, the 10 Commandments? […] Is it, sort of, do you view it as a set of guidelines and a framework for decision making in life, for simplifying things, or is it more than that?
You can probably guess that I became riveted to this conversation.
Phil’s answer to Tim’s question was quite illuminating but not surprising.
The 10 Commandments wouldn’t serve this purpose for me just because they don’t actually answer the “why?” […]
That’s exactly the cognitively wrong way to do it. Those are just commandments, they’re not explanations. […]
I kind of prefer to have the “why” rather than to just have the “what”. And I don’t have the exact answers, obviously. I think I’m getting a better and better feeling that things aren’t random. There is a purpose and I can work towards making the world better in the specific way in which I want it to be made better. And that feels great, that’s much more motivating than, kind of, getting up and following orders or getting up and not understanding why.
How can someone so thoughtful be so careless on such an important issue? Clearly, his knowledge of the 10 Commandments is quite insufficient to make such an all-embracing judgement. Phil couldn’t be more wrong about the 10 Commandments.
When he spoke to Moses and the ancient Israelites from Mount Sinai, God began with these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
The 10 Commandments are not merely rules to follow blindly. According to M. J. Kline, in an article of the New Bible Dictionary:
In brief, the two tablets [upon which the 10 Commandments were written] contained the essence of the Sinaitic Covenant. Yahweh, Creator of heaven, earth, sea and all that is in them, is presented as covenant Suzerain. The theocratic covenant relationship is traced to Yahweh’s redemptive election and deliverance, and its continuance to the thousandth generation is attributed to his faithful mercies. The covenant way of life is sovereignly dictated in ten commandments, the standard of Israel’s consecration to her Lord.
Or, in the words of Moses,
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse —the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.
In reality, the 10 Commandments form the foundation for a relationship between a group of people and the universal being who would deign to be their king. They know this being already because he had intervened on their behalf throughout their history. The reason for following the 10 Commandments then was so that they could enjoy all of the blessings promised to them by God, which are too numerous to list here. Yes, they are commandments in that they are rules to follow but following them forms the basis of a relationship with God that yields a lifestyle that is far better than anything we could imagine or achieve for ourselves, now and into eternity. “Why follow the 10 Commandments?” Phil asks. I ask you, “Why wouldn’t we?”
Perhaps the reason Phil doesn’t like the 10 Commandments has more to do with acknowledging our Creator. To acknowledge that humanity has a Creator is to see ourselves as second in our lives, to admit that we don’t know best for ourselves, or anyone else for that matter. Phil’s aversion to this line of thinking can be seen in his statement,
There is a purpose and I can work towards making the world better in the specific way in which I want it to be made better. (emphasis added)
Phil is seeking a “coherent philosophy” that will guide his life, provide a “why” for his lifestyle, yet he wants one that will justify his current lifestyle and what he already values. In other words, he is constructing a worldview that is self-serving. If Phil recognises that life is not random, but has purpose, then he owes it to himself to discover from whence or whom that purpose arises.
Why follow the 10 Commandments? Because our Creator, the one who has made himself known throughout human history and continues to do so today, has provided guidelines that saves us from having to discover or construct a “coherent philosophy” on our own. That Creator-God is revealed to us best by Jesus (Jn 14:9; Heb 1:3), who declared that he had come “not to abolish [the 10 Commandments] but to fulfil them” (Mt 5:17). Further to this, he declared,
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This free, full and forever life promised by Jesus is for those who believe in him (Jn 3:15-18)
I really do sympathise with Phil Libin’s hesitation to accept the 10 Commandments as a coherent philosophy for his values and lifestyle. However, his reasons for doing so really are not sufficient for dismissing them. On further investigation, the “why” of the 10 Commandments is quite clear. So, with Moses, for the record, let me state,
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years […]
Can you identify your worldview or, in Phil’s words, the “coherent philosophy” you live by?
How similar is the 10 Commandments to your worldview? Have you given the 10 Commandments due consideration?