Monthly Archives: August 2014

Death of a Smart, Funny Man

I wasn’t a rabid fan of Robin Williams but in the wake of his death I am reminded of many roles in movies in which he was fantastic–Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society in particular.  Now a bit haunted, I’ve watched some of his stand up on youtube and was struck also by how damn smart he was.

I’m pained by the type of torture that must have attended his last hours or days, the same empathy I feel when I hear of someone trapped in a years-long battle with bone cancer who might decide to end life rather than face more pain.

This is the time in a semi-fan’s eulogy to mention his mental health, maybe his addiction problems, and bemoan the fact that he should have gotten help.

However,while the media are PC enough to say that there should be no stigma to getting mental health help, while they claim we feel mental illness is really no different from physical illness– FAIL.

If Mr. Williams had had bone cancer, if he was known to have tried painkillers, morphine, marijuana, meditation, prayer, exercise, a macro diet, positive thinking– everything, to combat it, and had he found out despite all effort and repeated attempts and devout earnest wishing or prayer that the cancer had in fact returned, and had he known from experience that it just meant another uphill battle and more pain and had as a result killed himself– would there be this same reaction?

No.  Because at the root of it we minimize the pain of mental illness.  We do not give it the respect it deserves.

I assume that at 63 years old Mr. Williams had gotten help.  Dozens of times.  Had tried antidepressants, and TM and exercise and talk talk talk therapy.  Had long been intimate with what another depression meant.  I imagine him just tired, like, I can’t do this again, put my family through this, walk through this darkness.  I want to lay down, I want this over.

The guy was wicked smart, sensitive, intuitive.  When people say oh he should have gotten help, to whom should he have gone?  Who was as smart, as intuitive?  People think, oh, he should have told someone– but who?  I imagine few grasped how deep and broad his mind was.  Friends were astounded at his ability, how quickly his mind worked.  Few therapists or psychiatrists, I imagine, could stay with him to travel through the intricacies of that mind and light a way for him.

Suicide is not the answer for the vast vast majority of people,especially for people younger than 30.  But for Mr. Williams, I think it may have been.  To say he had so much to live for is to ignore his profound pain.

His family is devastated, of course, but they don’t seem shocked.  This did not come out of nowhere, it came out of a life sometimes in torment.  He knew well how vast that torment could be, and decided he would not suffer it again.

I respect his decision.





Men on Top

I’ve been seeing and reading quite a lot lately about the gender gap, the confidence gap, gender inequality in power positions, the dearth of women in politics and as CEOs and CFOs of the largest companies.  Women lack confidence.  Women wait until they are 110% ready to go for a promotion, men go when they are 60%.  Women ask for raises when they have all their ducks in a row and can boast flawless performance; men ask when they have a duckling or two because hey, can’t hurt to ask.

Why aren’t more women noticed, and promoted?  What’s been said is that women have to be bolder, have to be coached to be more confident.  Women won’t get squat if they don’t speak up, like men do.

Can we flip that?  Why aren’t we asking why we promote people who are lacking?  Why are we promoting men simply because they are confident, without delving into their competence?  Why do we accept the lesser candidate based on boldness alone?  If men ask for a promotion when they are 60% ready and they get it based on self-promotion, why aren’t we asking how he expects to manage that shortfall of his skillset?  Why are we satisfied with good enough?

Maybe the answer isn’t in asking women to “be like men.”  Maybe we– the selection committee, the professors, the interviewers– have to be more discerning, less distracted by the flash of self-assured smiles, more attuned to quieter miens of women, and more timid men, too, who are uncomfortable being audacious.  When a candidate is asked, “can you do this job,” and answers, honestly, “I will do my absolute best,’ we shouldn’t wait for the candidate who we know is full of it who says, “Absolutely.”  We ask the same, in error, of politicians — when everyone knows only fools act when the wiser would ponder.

The potential for excellence in leadership shouldn’t need a loudspeaker or PR machine of uber-confidence. Shouldn’t we let talent, intelligence, skills, education, character, and insight speak for themselves?