Lynne Rosen and John Littig were the hosts of “The Pursuit of Happiness“, a self-help radio show broadcast on WBAI-FM. They were also a couple living together in Brooklyn. Their radio show and motivational speaking focused on being positive and embracing spontaneity.
And earlier this month, Rosen and Littig killed themselves. Their bodies were found at least a week after their deaths in their Brooklyn apartment. Together. They had wrapped plastic bags around their heads and used helium to end their lives. Together.
Reports The Huffington Post:
In separate suicide notes, Lettig indicated that they were determined to die together, while Rosen apologized to her family, police said. But beyond that, why two people who made a living giving advice on how to lead more fulfilling lives decided to cut short their own wasn’t clear.
A perplexing situation, and one only entirely clear to two people who can no longer explain. Obviously this is a tragedy–these two people were in a horrible mental place for which suicide seemed the only escape–but what does this mean for the people who listened to their show and took their advice?
Self-help and motivational speaking as an industry are inherently exploitative; your customers are the most down-trodden among us, those who turn towards the thoughts of others to find help. The genre has never really interested me, because the concept of buying an instruction manual for your own mind is a little absurd; did cowboys need motivational speakers to be happy? No, they just rode their horses around and looked at vistas. But the words of Rosen and Littig were helpful to some:
When someone in whose words people find solace chooses to end their life, confusion is inevitable. Look at David Foster Wallace: on the day he took his life he was our greatest living writer, and then he wasn’t anymore. His commencement speech “This is Water“, is one of the most inspirational things ever written. His novel Infinite Jest, which deals with depression and suicide, is incredibly thoughtful and reading it made me a better person.
Does his suicide make his life advice matter any less? Absolutely not. DFW was the man, and he had a chemical imbalance that made it impossible to exist within his own mind.
Were the words of Rosen and Littig helping people as much as Wallace helped me? You know, it really doesn’t matter: they died in a tragic way, and it’s not up to me to make any judgments about that. When their bodies were found, the media was quick to point out the irony in the whole thing, forgetting that they were real people who aren’t anymore. There’s one self-help tip I can give you, despite my earlier ripping on self-help: just be compassionate and try not to criticize suicide victims. There’s exactly one suicide victim we are allowed to belittle ruthlessly, and his name was Adolf Hitler. Be compassionate, guys!
With that in mind, and my hypocrite hat on, take a look at this unfortunate video that one of the victims made: