Monday, July 13, 2009

Burning Bridges

So, how often have you heard the phrase "don't burn bridges, you never know...." usually followed by some reason for not burning that particular bridge.

The bigger question - the one that should serve as guidance, is - "should I ever burn a bridge?"

The short answer is "no", but that doesn't mean that bridges aren't being burned all around you.
(Continued after the Jump)

The more verbose way of saying "don't burn bridges", is to say "don't take a proactive action where the purpose of that action is to destroy an ongoing interaction pathway between you, and someone else."

This does, however, leave A LOT of wiggle room.

If someone takes an action that torches the bridge you built, there's the possibility that you might nuke it. Consider the client who, when you say to them "if you'd like to use that photograph of so-and-so for an ad campaign, we'll need to discuss an extended rights package and the associated fees for that", says "huh? We own the photo, we're not paying you another dime, and we're doing what we want with it." That blatantly F-U response warrants calling in the lawyers and filing suit. Result? Bridge burned.

What if, however, you observe a fellow photojournalist working for the organization you do staging a news photograph, and your photo editor, knowing you were there, comes to you and says "hey, did Jane Doe set that photo up, or did it just happen spontaneously, like Jane says?" By answering truthfully, you know that Jane might be fired at worse, and at best, she will be angry with you and never speak to, or trust you again because you wouldn't cover for her. Your truthful answer would burn the bridge. I submit that you should speak the truth, and not further the cover-up.

Suppose you are a working photographer and an educator at a local university, and a friend/colleague of yours is being critisized because, for example, they were shooting at a sports event and their actions changed the outcome of the game. For example, a shutter click at a golf tournament, an errant lens on a basketball court in-bounds that trips up a player running down court, or being in the pit and inadvertently interfering with a refueling stop for a driver that penalizes them a few seconds. When your students say "what do you think of the news about Jim Smith messing up that game...", and your saying "well I know Jim, and he's generally a responsible photographer, but he was in the wrong on that one..." and Jim gets wind of it. If he's honest with himself, he will acknowledge he was in the wrong, but more than likely, he won't like that you criticised him.

On the other hand - suppose you overheard some of your peers taking smack about you, or your photography? Should you get sucked in and defend yourself, and in turn, start talking smack about them, either to their face, or behind their back? No. While you can pretend you don't hear what's being said, you can realize that those that are not only talking smack, but more importantly, those in that group that you thought were your friends are not sticking up for you, aren't really your friends. Don't engage, just apply the old adage - keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

Frankly, when I have something critical to say of someone, it must be something that I am willing to also say to that person's face. Do I, for example, think there are people who are doing a grave disservice to the photographic profession? Do I think that there are people who are just plain jackasses? Do I think that there are people who talk smack about or to others, and hope that those they are talking smack about don't learn about it? In all three situations, the answer is yes. Also, in all three situations, I would (and in some cases have when the opportunity arose) suggested as much to them.

Do I know that there are people in the photographic community that feel that I have burned my bridges to them? Sure. Yet, during the burning, it was because I stood up for what I believed to be right (and over time, those beliefs have turned out to be truths) despite the easy path being to just say nothing. The measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and ease, but where he stands in times of adversity and challenge. Over time, instead of me recognizing that the bridges were burnt and saying to hell with so-and-so, the smarter path is to just remain silent, and let the other side re-build the bridge. On more than one occasion, that has happened to me.

If the consequences of doing what is right, honest, truthful, and just, is that a bridge is burned, then, so be it. In those instances, it wasn't your actions per se that caused the bridge to be burned, but rather, a consequence of someone doing something wrong, dishonest, deceitful, or unjust.

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