The Story Behind the Photo: August 28, 2011

Fort Barricade

When a hurricane came upon us in late summer of 2011, we retreated to Pennsylvania for a few days to avoid the power outages and floods. While there, we discovered a place called Fort Ligonier. A well-preserved colonial fort, it includes pikes, barricades and all the amenities of the 1700s.

The Complexities of Human Interaction, or, How to Know Your Friends

A thing happened recently that put my connections with other people into question. Unfortunately I can’t go into specifics, but it brought to light a few different things in relation to my personal relationships with quite a number of people, and made me wonder exactly how strong the bond between people is – and what kind of tests those bonds can withstand.

To put things into perspective, let me offer an analogy. Imagine, if you will, that you are a doctor. One day, a friend tells you that someone you both know has cancer, but doesn’t want to talk about it. They’ve refused to see a specialist, haven’t started any treatment, and don’t have a plan to deal with it – but they are telling everyone around them what’s happened. (If this seems an unlikely scenario, I actually have an uncle who once did exactly this.)

As a doctor, you feel a responsibility to help this person, but you’re not an oncologist, and don’t have the knowledge or skills to treat them. Instead, you approach someone who is a cancer specialist, and describe the situation to them. You don’t tell them any names, and you don’t give them anything that could identify the person you’re talking about – you just provided a general idea of what’s going on, in order to gain advice and perspective on how to help.

However, after you see the specialist, word gets back to the cancer-sufferer that you spoke to a specialist about them. They accuse you of name-dropping, going behind their back, and suddenly cut you off almost completely without giving you an opportunity to explain what actually happened.

This is the scenario I find myself in today, not with someone I know suffering from cancer, but rather with an extremely toxic work environment. A number of people at my place of work have started ostracizing me for sharing their feelings with managers, despite having done so anonymously, and with the sole intent of trying to lessen the toxicity of the atmosphere and make it an enjoyable place to work once more.

It’s particularly frustrating because virtually no one who has behaved like this has actually approached me, asked me what was going on, or even shown the courtesy to judge me based on what I’ve actually done, and not on what they’ve heard second-hand.

It’s also fascinating from a human interaction perspective, because it has really highlighted to me just how easily people can fall into a dark place of mistrust and paranoia, just from a few tidbits of misinformation. Quite suddenly rumor becomes fact, and in the space of a few moments, someone who was once trusted and liked becomes a pariah.

The most hurtful part is the fact that these are people I trusted myself, people I connected with … people I thought of as friends. For my part, of course, I still do, but I don’t really know what they all think.

There are couple people, however, who didn’t buy in to the hype; a couple of folk who either trusted me as a friend, or at the very least approached me to know the truth of the matter. Some of these people I would have expected; others were a little bit of a surprise, but a welcome one, naturally.

Fear and mistrust are terrible things, and lead to toxic, destructive relationships. I don’t know whether these broken relationships will ever be repaired, and if they are, if they’ll end up as strong as they once were. I understand that this is how people feel, and I understand that I might have done things that, on the surface, appeared to support those feelings of mistrust.

However, the one thing I’ve learned is that a person’s feelings, thoughts and emotions can override logical observation – but in people with a higher level of emotional maturity, they don’t allow it to. To those who came to me, and those who trusted me, and those who stopped to ask what was really true – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the reason I can still face going to work.

For the rest of my friends … I still love you. I don’t blame you, and I hope we can soon mend the rift between us.

And for everyone else in the world, please remember: things are not always what they seem. Someone who might seem detrimental might actually be trying to help, and those who profess to help might not be so altruistic in their motives. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your friends – only that, if you actually value their friendship, provide them the courtesy of asking them the truth directly, rather than relying on second- and third-hand rumors.

The Story Behind the Photo: August 24, 2008

Dark and brooding sands of Lancaster.

Toward the end of August 2008 my wife, son and I took a trip from Sheffield to visit Lancashire. We stayed in a sea-view hotel in Morecambe, and the vast tracts of empty sand fascinated me. It’s said that the tide comes in here faster than a galloping horse, and indeed a few foolhardy folk have ventured out too close to the changing of the tide, and have been lost.

On the way back, we drove over the Snake Pass, which is astonishingly not only a narrow winding road over some of the highest parts of the Peak District, but also forms one of the few major thoroughfares from Sheffield to Manchester – two of the largest towns in the north of England.