Intervention

I will watch anything Sherlock Holmes related. My husband only enjoys the traditional setting with the traditional characters, but I will watch any version: Hollywood blockbuster, PBS masterpiece theatre, or a NYC crime mystery with a female Asian American Watson. What can I say? Smart socially awkward folks are my people.

So, I was watching Elementary tonight and was caught up in a recent subplot. In it, the medical examiner has survived a bombing which killed a woman he had just been getting up the courage to woo. The arch concluded tonight as Sherlock refused to take, “I’m fine, I’m managing” as an answer and continued to demonstrate in every way he could that he cared. It was a compelling set of scenes to me, partially because the characters were so poorly practiced in sharing emotion, but also because they helped me imagine what it must feel like to be part of an intervention.

I’ve never been in a situation where I felt that I stood in the way of a serious negative consequence for someone. I worry that someday I might be called to intervene — and I worry more that I might not be up to the challenge.

Part of it, I suspect, is the fact that I have a strong belief in allowing individuals to make decisions and take actions that are designed for their own happiness. At my core, I believe that looking in from the outside I can not possibly have all of the facts or insight that an individual has gained about who they are and what makes them happy. And while I have a strong moral code for myself, applying my sense of right and wrong to someone else’s circumstances has generally felt wrong.

But an equal part of my resistance comes from battle scars. In my earliest years I meddled in the place that most young girls meddle — I gave out relationship advice. I told my teenage friends that their boyfriends weren’t treating them well or pointed out actions that I thought suggested poor character. I learned the hard way that young love (like older love) is strong stuff and I found myself demoted to a less influential role. I learned that it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong if you are no longer asked for your opinion.

Years later when I had a friend who announced her engagement to a man of truly questionable character, I didn’t push her. In my head I rationalized that I only by being quiet and supportive could I ensure I was there if help was later needed. I worried in silence, convincing myself that she was not me and that she understood what she needed to be happy. I attended the wedding — and then watched as everything fell apart.

We’ve talked about it. We’re still friends and we connect reasonably often, although rarely now in person. The last time we chatted about it she shared the emotional scars she still carries and I told her how much I regret not intervening. I remember distinctly the moment when I could have, when I could have taken a harder line. I could have told her that I understood what it meant to be trapped in a relationship that no longer made sense — I could have done something, but I didn’t. And when I think about that, the years she spent as her life fell apart and the years she spent putting it back together, the guilt I feel is tremendous.

Frankly, it doesn’t help that she doesn’t blame me.

Now I simply wonder that someday I may be faced with another situation where I will have to ask myself how best to help someone I love. I will have to ask whether I should assert myself and intervene or give them the trust and space to go in a direction that might be wholly different than the path I would take. That’s just part of life, part of the delicate balance in relationships that we all face. Acting has consequences and failing to act has consequences and sometimes you can’t see the complex pattern to know what the long term impact will be.

Unless you really are Sherlock, I guess. That dude has it all figured out.

Thinking about Thinking

Reading my blog, people might come to the conclusion that I spend a significant amount of time in quiet reflection.

Ahhh, quiet reflection. That reminds me of a story.

When I got my first promotion to a supervisory role my boss told me something. She said that her boss, while announcing her promotion had shared the guidance he had received at his promotion to that level. He said, “Before, you were expected to constantly be writing, typing or calculating — always in action doing tasks. Now, you’ve reached the level where you can spend a few moments of each day just thinking. Enjoy it.”

We had a conspiratorial chuckle, laughing at the times of old when big open floors were filled with table after table of analysts scribbling frantically on green bar paper. I accepted my promotion gratefully and ran back to my desk to pound out more work. I did not take a moment for quiet thought.

It was years later before I really thought about how bad I am at quiet reflection. Now, don’t get me wrong — I think. I think constantly, but it is always thought in motion:

  • I think while I am writing, like now.
  • I think while talking, the home turf of the true extrovert.
  • I think in edits, in version after version of a difficult spreadsheet, a multi-layered presentation or a sub-optimal process flow.

I am thankful for computers, because now I can churn through reams of ideas without a wastebasket full of evidence. I am an active out loud thinker.

I envy the friends I know who are inside thinkers, those steady waters that run deep. I’ve considered taking up meditation, but I’m not sure I am capable of sitting still that long or of completely calming my mind. The closest I get to that is the 15 minutes in bed at night before I collapse into sleep, and to be honest those are usually either shallow tactical thoughts (what are the three most important things I need to do tomorrow) or self-sabotaging thoughts (who did I let down today, what could go wrong tomorrow). I’m not sure I want to encourage more of that.

Besides, I’ve reached the point where I embrace who I am and how I work. The world needs the frantic energy of my vividly cycling thoughts as much as it needs those who reflect quietly.

It’s the thinking that matters.