The Soloist: A story about good intentions, letting go, and other important things

the-soloist1A few days ago, I saw The Soloist; a fascinating movie about friendship, mental illness, music, family, homelessness, community dysfunction, and more.  This movie engaged me on a number of personal fronts, including conflict management, music, and community building.  One way it especially touched me was that it reminded me that even though we may reach out to someone, and with the best of intentions, how they respond is beyond our control.  And on that front, I focus this post


The basic plot

Based on a true story, the movie’s plot revolves around the relationship between a cynical journalist with the L.A. Times, Steve Lopez (played by actor Robert Downey Jr.), and a schizophrenic, musical, homeless person, Nathaniel Ayers (played by actor Jamie Foxx).  Set in urban Los Angeles, their relationship is played out in the midst of hurt, pain, indifference and squalor.  Their story (i.e., Lopez, Ayers) continues to play out today, on YouTube and other media channels!


The paradox of good intentions

The Soloist script gives us many examples of the tenuous relationship between intention and outcome.


On the one hand, good intentions (as scripted in the movie) stay on track:

  • Caring with no strings attached moves the recipients (of that care) to a place of security and belonging
  • Authentic conversations strengthen a personal relationship
  • Reaching out results in re-connection and engagement
  • Shared experience contributes to new ways of being

On the other hand, good intentions (as scripted in the movie) go awry:

  • A planned celebratory event turns to an occasion of despair
  • An increase in community funds get spent in ways that harm the community
  • A loving family becomes broken and isolated
  • Friendship leads to violent rejection



On letting go

All this uncertainty around outcomes, as played out in The Soloist, reminds me of what it means to let go.  The idea of letting go, of surrendering control over the outcome of your action, has been around for a long time, in many guises.  Here’s a few of the sources that have influenced my understanding of what it means to let go:

  • World religions (e.g., Buddhism) and philosophies have used non-attachment as a pillar of their belief system
  • One of my favourite poems is Khalil Gibran‘s poem Children (found in his book The Prophet, written in 1923).  Here’s one of the lines ”You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts” (my guess is this one will ring true for anyone whose a parent!)
  • The influential psychiatrist, RD Laing, wrote The Politics of Experience in the 1960s; on how we can never experience someone else’s experience (empathize maybe, experience no)
  • The oft-used interest-based approach to conflict management, put forward by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 book, Getting to Yes, is based on an unconditionally constructive strategy in which (we) do only things that are both good for the relationship and good for us, whether or not they (the other party) reciprocate

How about you – what’s influenced your view of what it means to let go?


At the end of the day


So we connect with others, and work together, with good intention, towards a common goal.  And yet; at the end of the day, things may unravel in unintended ways.  It seems to me that continually holding up both those potentialities in front of us might be a healthy thing to do!


What’s your workplace context for letting go?  How does letting go influence your approach to collaboration?  I’d like to hear from you.

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Photo credit: DreamWorks


  1. this is a amazing movie.. it is realy sad but it got me to open up my eyes and realize that there are people out there like that…

  2. Hi Tabatha. Yes it can be disheartening. Even in my own city, there are many homeless people, many of them with mental health issues, and some of whom have gifts (including artistic ones) that would ideally be shared with the larger community, or anyone who is interested. One of the highlights of this movie was how it portrays homelessness as a complex issue – which of course, it is.

  3. Ugh. Very true. This is an eye opener to everybody.

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