Cultivating Brilliance: Hello Darkness My Old Friend

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The recent passing of Chris Cornell got me thinking about darkness and brilliance.

I remember when Robin Williams committed suicide. I knew the feeling well. I understood his pain, so I could also feel his liberation. I remember thinking to myself, I am not surprised, because he was such a bright light and brilliant mind. So often the most brilliant minds are the ones that are the most misunderstood and the most dimmed by society. So much so, that they opt out, it becomes too hard to swim upstream against the current for...One. More. Day.

So when I heard of Chris Cornell’s recent passing, yet again, I was not surprised – sad definitely, but not surprised. We can blame it on drugs and the pharmaceutical industry and so much more, yet those are just symptoms of our greater societal pressures and failings.

We are living in a rapidly changing world and many can’t keep up; won’t keep up. The generations before us grew up after the Depression and the Industrial Revolution in an era of the assembly line and making everything standard. It was an era in which there were fewer people and “unlimited resources.” Schools, business, and the economy were based on normalization, not standing out and being different – that kept things in order, it also kept the power in the hands of the few.

Today, that is rapidly changing. We are a swiftly growing population, with fewer resources and it requires us to be unique, different and to stand out, speak out and innovate in new and different ways.

There is an opportunity to cultivate the abundance of resources if we tap into our true human potential and stop limiting ourselves and those around us of their own inner brilliance and genius. We need to begin cultivating brilliance, not stifling it.

I remember watching the movie recently, The Man Who Knew Infinity, about the Indian yogi, genius, mathematician Ramanujan, who as he put it, “downloaded mathematical formulas from God.” When brought to one of the finest Western Universities, he spent most of his time there being dimmed to prove how he got his formulas, rather than spending time extrapolating his formulas to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges because it was beyond what others could comprehend. At the end of the movie, it was said that a final journal of his was found in the 1970s after he died that was still being used today to explain black holes. Absolutely incredible!

What other brilliant solutions to the planet’s challenges are we dimming because our own limitations and limited capacities don’t understand that of other great minds?

Shortly after seeing that movie, I went to a preview of National Geographic’s Genius with Geoffrey Rush playing Einstein. In just the first episode, I felt again what it was like to be that bright light being dimmed – often first by family and then by friends and greater society. I imagine it was no different for greats like Galileo and those who first spoke up about the planet being round, not flat and being laughed at and rejected, until it became common knowledge and then accepted norms. Yet in those in between times, no doubt those individuals suffered.

How many of us are dimmed by our friends, family, loved ones and also by institutions, colleagues and the greater societal norms to “keep us in line”?

Perhaps it is time that we begin to shift those standards of normalization and instead cultivate brilliance in our social, emotional, and economic culture. A form of it is happening in the entrepreneurial world, yet even there, with pressures to get investor funding and be understood by investors, and fit those square pegs in round holes, leads to a lot of failure, and yes, even suicide.

I have been blessed to spend time with many brilliant minds and they all have similar stories of rebellion, rejection and for some after a long journey, they make it to the other side and thrive and succeed. Yet for many, after being beaten down, being told no, being scoffed at, rejected or even just misunderstood one too many times, it is enough, and many are broken.

I have spent time with many musicians, entrepreneurs and visionaries and for so many the line between success and failure, living and dying, is a very fine one.

I lost a cousin a year ago to suicide and that darkness was a familiar one for me. I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been on that edge myself as well as I have always pushed the lines of “normal” for many and that is uncomfortable. It is a painful, lonely journey so I have the utmost depth of compassion and understanding for it. Yet somehow, in each of those moments, in my own journey, something or someone has reminded me of my own light and given me enough reason and hope to keep going and my purpose has ultimately kept me going.

As with the passing of brilliant minds like Chris Cornell, Robin Williams or any others – famous or unknown, I would hope that we might wake up to the greater symptoms in our own actions and own society and be brave and bold to stand up for being different, looking different and seeing different and that rather than dim it, we may ask questions, try to understand it and yes, perhaps learn from it. May we begin to shift our mindsets and begin championing brilliance and uniqueness, not squelching it.

Where are we dimming others because of fear or misunderstanding their way of being, point of view or brilliance? How may we use those opportunities to learn from their light and brilliance, not suffocate it? Where might we as individuals and within greater society begin to support actions towards cultivating brilliance at every turn not questioning, fearing, shunning, or dimming it? By doing so, we may just cultivate so much darn light that we begin to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges more rapidly, might find solutions to create more infinite resources and abundance…oh yeah and in the mean time, save a few lives along the way.

To Chris Cornell’s family and friends, and that of so many others who have lost someone in this way, may you turn your darkest moments into light and nurture and cultivate that of others.