The Need for Distance and Space

When an event occurs, like it did today at the tail-end of the Boston Marathon, there’s a tendency to react. Given that many of us are connected via smartphones and social media platforms, news spreads like a wildfire in a windstorm.

At 3:30 when I left the office for the day, I was oblivious to what had just happened. I had decided to work today, Patriot’s Day and all, since as a free agent, I have no vacation pay for not working. The office was empty and I got a boatload of stuff accomplished and a good amount out the door.

When I walked out to the empty parking lot, sun streaming down, I thought about my wife’s cousin, PK, running her 2nd Boston Marathon. The last time she ran, two years ago, Mrs. B and I took the bus down and joined family and friends, cheering her on. We almost went this year, but we’re both busy and next weekend we’re booked, so we opted to spend the day working. Mary’s niece, six months pregnant, and Mary’s 85-year-old mother, took the train down.

Getting in my car, I turned on WEEI to catch the updates on the Marathon and the Red Sox. Something was amiss. There was a news feed instead of Holly and the new guy from Seattle; something about a bomb and the end of the race.

Holy Shit!!

PK was finishing and now I remember when I checked Facebook before logging off my computer, a friend of hers asked if she was “ok.” I thought maybe PK had encountered some difficulties; cramps, muscle issues; things like that happen when you run 26.2 miles—not a freakin’ bomb!

My friend Emily’s been talking “distance” to me a lot lately. The context is leadership, as in, “people need distance and space” in order to process, especially leaders. In fact, she posted an incisive comment not long ago on my blog about people and “…the need for frequent contact” and that this is “sometimes anxiety-driven.”

She went on in her comment and I want to quote her here, because it was very good and it speaks to the moment, I think:

“There doesn’t seem to be enough awareness of the fact that humans need some space and separateness from each other to think and to grow. Leaders in particular need to have enough distance to be able to think objectively so they can make proactive decisions, and not just react to all the instantaneous communications. It’s a trick to stay connected (not isolated), while retaining some emotional separateness from the crowd.”

Back before The Christian Science Monitor found it couldn’t make a profit with its daily print publication, they were a newspaper that prided themselves on taking a “longer” view of issues, usually coming to stories a day or two after the event, offering space and distance. I found this enlightening and really appreciated this approach during the 1990s when I had a subscription for a couple of years. It was different from other publications at the time.

Twenty years out into the future, there is no distance at all to news and developing stories.

Almost immediately after the explosions, Howie Carr, simulcast for some reason on WEEI, was providing the most gruesome, sensationalistic coverage of the events, pulling them from his proverbial ass. I’m not surprised because he is a journalistic hack, but he garners a substantial audience.

The New York Post had been saying the death toll was 12, yet all the other media outlets were reporting that only two people had been killed. Yellow journalism like this knows no bounds.

What’s the purpose of this kind of coverage? Is it merely ratings, and is news and journalism just some kind of blood sport for these outlets and the people who flock to them for their news?

I was thankful that news came from Mary’s niece, Aja, that PK was fine; she was ok, and so was Grandmama.

I came home and Miss Mary was in the kitchen, getting food ready for her book club, meeting at our house this month.

I could tell she was a bit shaken, which is unusual for her. Then I remembered that her friend from SheJAMs, Coreen, was also running. Word came that she was fine, too.

I am genuinely sorry for the families of those people who lost a loved one, or had someone they care about injured in the blast. This is tragic and I’m not minimizing how they must feel this evening.

Even though I wanted to sit in front of the Tee Vee and soak up all the coverage, I resisted the urge. Instead, I jumped on my bike and rode hard for over an hour.

The evening sun was getting ready to set when I rolled down the driveway. My 19-mile ride cleared my head, helped me to realize that there was still beauty and meaning in the world, and I had created some distance.

I’m not going to follow all the news stories tomorrow. Like the old Christian Science Monitor, I’m going to take a longer view of what happened today.

On Wednesday, I’ll look at some news and maybe read some analysis, although it’s a busy day for me and I might not have too much spare time for news gathering.

I don’t think I’ll be any worse for not having every detail and I can always catch up with everything on Thursday.

There is still beauty in the world.

There is still beauty in the world.

3 thoughts on “The Need for Distance and Space

  1. “There doesn’t seem to be enough awareness of the fact that humans need some space and separateness from each other to think and to grow. ”

    Word. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s increasingly difficult to find the middle ground between massive connection and massive isolation.

  2. Good stuff Jim…loved your friend’s quote…so true. That is how I try to operate at school when faced with tough decisions. Sometimes, I am able to find the time and space, but other times I am not and have to make a split decision.



  3. @Julie-Ann Finding the balance is our challenge, isn’t it? I don’t think I understood balance when I was younger like I do now. I struggle with finding just the right mix.

    @Jeff Emily is a special friend, and yes, a mentor, too. Wise about human dynamics, and also, leadership. I’m sure your position requires many split decisions, yet, you’ve obviously found the space and distance in your own life to be able to make these, when necessary.

    That’s probably a good, basic definition for leadership, a role that you’ve stepped into and been successful filling.

    Sometimes, the only thing I have when facing those tough, split-second decisions land in my lap are the memory of those leaders I respected from my past and I’ll think, “what would ______do?”

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