Cathie and I went to see the movie The Soloist (spoiler alert) tonight. (Some might say this is the story of Ken Buck and Chris Sloan, except Chris Sloan plays the Cello) If you haven't seen the previews, it's about a reporter, Steve Lopez, who befriends a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers, who is also a musical prodigy. The movie deals with the relationship between the two of them as the reporter is faced with the world of the homeless and trying to help him out.
It was a tough movie to watch, but a good movie. It just hit close to home in a lot of ways. It showed a pretty stark reality to the homelessness in L.A. It showed how bad it is and how there are no easy answers to fix things for them. Throughout the movie, Lopez wrestled with the issue of how close to get to Ayers and how to help him. He wrestled with what it looked like to exploit the guy through his newspaper column for his own publicity verses saving him from the life he lived and his schizophrenia. Lopez did great things for Ayers because he saw the potential in him, but in the end, most of those things went wrong even though done for mostly the right reasons.
This movie hit me from a lot of angles. It struck me because I'm a person who likes to help others, mostly for the right reasons. I'm a guy who all day long tries to fix problems - problems my employees have, customer's problems and larger strategic problems. It's what I do. Often times I want to translate those same problem solving abilities to my wife, kids and friends. It often comes across as harsh, judgmental or self-righteous. While I'm a guy who appreciates feedback and solutions in my own life, and try and apply the same solutions to things going on with me - the idea doesn't necessarily translate well beyond my own life. My motivations are mostly good for wanting to help others because I see such greatness in them, and I know what it would take to resolve the issue in my own life.
I could so relate with Lopez as he wrestled with seeing the potential in Ayers and wanting to provide Ayers with solutions: notoriety for his talent, medication for his schizophrenia, a room to get him off the streets. He wanted to save this guy, to fix him, and was frustrated with the end results short-term because at the end of the day, he learned (like I've learned time and time again) that you can't really control anyone else.
I see the potential in my friends and family, see what they could be and try and "fix" them in the vision that I have for them. I've gotten way better at carrying the tension of loving someone where they're at verses trying to help them out, but I'm not there yet. I think I'll always be the guy who challenges my friends, but I've learning to incorporate more humility and patience into the mix over the years.
There's a line at the end of the movie where Lopez's wife says to him about his relationship with Ayers, 'Stop trying to save him. Just be his friend and show up'. I think that's been one of the biggest lessons for me in my friendships. At the end of the day, love is what I've seen really change people. Action plans in the context of love, not treating them like a project.
In the closing minutes of the movie, the writer talks about how he stopped looking at the prodigy as a project and started being a friend. He shares that he really hasn't fixed his friend, but maybe together they've made some progress. In the end, I guess that's what I've learned with the friends of mine and my wife and kids I've tried to "fix" over the years. Whether it's a homeless guy or any other guy with problems, not seeing them as a project, but being a friend and just showing up for them goes a long ways.