The speechmaker is given no more than three minutes and is instructed to imagine that, as soon as the talk concludes, he or she dies. My friend said that the speeches were uniformly riveting, but, more notably, they were surprising. The men and women charged with the honor of giving these speeches clearly thought hard about what was most essential for them to say, and often it wasn’t at all what you might expect from a senator, a world-renowned physicist, or a CFO. – Eugene O’Kelly
That was the exercise (pdf) that opened up this past quarter’s Silicon Valley Junto discussion on death and mortality. The SV Junto is an "intellectual salon" modeled on Ben Franklin’s Junto. Chris and I started it a year and a half ago.
We had some intense and wonderfully honest / emotional conversations. One point that came up which has been rattling around in my mind is whether it’s possible to achieve the clarity and "life changing experience" that many people have during a grieving process without actually having a grieving process. It seems like the pain threshold needs to be high enough to truly jolt you out of your default system and appreciate the preciousness of each day, the importance of relationships you take for granted. Dealing with a death meets that threshold; what other things?
Like most people at the Junto, I find benefit from pondering my own mortality. At a practical level, of course, there are various loose ends that if not tied up have the potential to wreck families and relationships. Equally important are the "spiritual" and emotional issues around how you choose to live a life of finite time (if you don’t believe in an afterlife).
Much more to write about on this topic, but for now I’ll simply point you to the 3 minute drill PDF used for the Junto; the text of Tim Taylor’s speech; here is Gayle’s; here is Eliezer Yudowksy’s email to friends after his brother’s tragic death.