“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yesterday, the world was shaken as we lost someone who, even at 5’7″ tall, was larger than life. On August 11, Robin Williams took his own life. A permanent solution to a temporary problem, but at the time, he saw no alternative.
Countless people have wondered how a man who was able to bring so much joy to so many people, could be so miserable. Cracked has published a piece in which they explain how alone even the funniest people can feel, and how their personal issues can sometimes manifest in an extraordinary gift to make others laugh, even leading to their own demise. I’m not unique, in that I wondered how, exactly, that was possible. I battle with ennui, but typically that’s about as far as I get into the cycle of depression. I feel a bit of midlife crisis, pondering how exactly I could make more of a difference with my life. How could I achieve success, in the words of Mr. Emerson?
Interestingly, I think those two streams of thought may be intertwined a bit. In the case of Robin Williams, I’m fully certain that everybody who met him was thrilled to make his acquaintance. But, whereas everybody was thrilled to meet him, how many were genuinely interested in him, and not just a character? How many of those interactions amounted to more than the shallow , “I love your work”?
As a society, we’ve become increasingly disinterested in others. Of course, we like to pretend that we’re interested. When I met a new friend in June, he was telling me about a social experiment he’s been working on. Stunningly simple, yet meaningful. What was this mad social experiment?
Yes, listening. How many people do you walk past on the street, that you may catch their eye, and say something canned, such as “How you doin’?” with absolutely no intention of even taking your ear buds out, let alone stopping? At every turn, with our body language, words, and actions, we demonstrate our disinterest. If we’re cognizant of the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to meet someone’s gaze and not address them, how is it possible that it’s better to address them without ever giving a thought to listening to their response?
Today, I’ve crossed paths with many whose fortunes could have been similar to Mr. Williams’. I’ve learned about people who have seen their fortunes turn around. I’ve learned about people whose family and friends simply don’t understand depression. As if they may catch it, like the chicken pox. Sometimes, you come across people who continue to struggle, and people who just started struggling, and wondering what is wrong? The American diet is deplorable, and has led to magnesium deficiencies. We’ve been decreasing our social interaction, as struggle to interact without the assistance of a web server. But, more than that, even the small interactions that we DO have daily, we don’t take advantage of.
Love, in itself, isn’t enough. You can have a beautiful wife and children, and still feel inexplicably alone. But. what if upon Robin’s imaginary trip for coffee yesterday morning, someone actually stopped and listened after asking how he was doing? So, in my quest to make a difference, I’m going to try to do so by listening. Connecting.