Mourning with Compassion: On the Passing of Robin Williams

This week the world lost a brilliant storyteller and creative talent with the passing of Robin Williams. His tragic death as well as so many other horrible things happening in the news as of late has left me convinced that the world is in dire need of more compassion. All too often we are quick to point fingers and heap guilt upon people instead of coming alongside them.


Compassion means “to suffer with.” To act with compassion means stepping down from our soapbox and coming away from our aerial view which sees quick and easy solutions for the problems of others. It means putting our boots on the ground and going into the trenches with others – even when their struggles don’t make sense to us. It means giving up our well-intentioned plans to “fix” the other person and recognizing that even if we could, quite likely it’s not our job or place to do so. At times, it means standing shoulder to shoulder with someone whose choices we question and whose decisions in our way of thinking seem hair-brained at best and outright stupid at worst. It does not mean being in agreement with those decisions; but it does mean refusing to fall into the trap of denying them our love when they don’t behave in a manner that we consider acceptable or rational.


Compassion is not easy. Compassion requires huge amounts of humility. Amounts that, if we’re honest, most of us, myself included, don’t have. Compassion is not for wimps. It often requires us to disregard the status quo, to relinquish our people-pleasing ways, and thus, to walk a lonely road. Quite likely it will mean hearing thousands of times, “Why would you waste your time with him/her? Why don’t you give up? You’re never going to get anywhere with them;” and staying the course, even when a large part of you believes those words to be true. While compassion may have hopes for a future outcome, it is not undertaken for or guided solely by the desire to achieve this outcome. If it were, it could be easily manipulated. True compassion casts out all possibility of manipulation.


I want to be a person of compassion; but what does this look like in my daily life? What does this look like in my professional life? As a storyteller, how do I lead with compassion and invite others into lives of deeper compassion as well? Is it through the stories I choose to tell? My style of telling? The places I tell? The environment that I create while telling? The way I treat audience members outside of the telling experience? Or is it some of all of the above? I’m not entirely sure, but I’d like to spend the rest of my days figuring it out.


Imagine a world where the compassion I’ve described above happened all of the time – where we were each recipients of and givers of compassion in every possible situation. Imagine a world where there was less finger-pointing, less criticism, less nit-picking, less shaming, less talking and more humility, more love, more understanding, more listening, more bearing with one another’s burdens. Imagine that world and then stop saying that it’s not possible and do something to bring it into existence.

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