The Least We Can Do

Intro by Skip Cohen

I’ve spent my entire life in the photographic industry. There’s no other career field I can imagine I would have ever had the experiences and the pure joy every day than imaging. However, in this guest post from Joan Whitman Hoff, she hits on a topic I’ve seen come up over and again, and it ties into a major frustration.

We all have events in our lives that change our direction. Too often something changes in somebody’s life and they need to step back from their “journey”. Suddenly the grape vine cranks up, and the rumors start. I’ve seen rumors of companies going out of business because somebody puts out a message they’re in trouble. I’ve had calls from people who heard mutual friends were ill because they’ve dropped some weight. I’ve even been asked if one photographer had a nervous breakdown because they’d gone off the grid for a few days. People assume the worst.

My frustration is the way people draw the wrong conclusions. It’s a spin-off of my good pal, Joan Whitman Hoff’s theme in this guest post. What I love about Joan’s approach is her suggestion we all learn to take the high road and be better friends to everybody who falls and just needs a little help and time getting back up.

We’re always talking about “giving back” and Joan’s final suggestion is perfect for all of us. Let’s take giving back to a new level and not just apply it to the charities and larger scale projects we support, but individuals who simply need help.

Picture© Kheng Guan Toh

by Joan Whitman Hoff

A friend of mine once told me she wouldn’t mind being rich; but she didn’t want to be famous.  I have thought about this over the years and I understand what she meant.  Being rich enables us to live the life we choose; being famous doesn’t necessarily do so. 

Whether it is fame in the larger world or fame in the community of photography, it is clear the more we do, and the more we become leaders, the more accountable we are to others, and the world.  As leaders, people pay more attention to us and we become role models to them.  

Whether we are educators, photographers, marketing specialists, or an association or corporation, people expect great things from us, and rightfully so.  Yet, as humans, we make mistakes; as humans, things befall us.  Loved ones die, relationships end, illnesses threaten to take our lives, accidents occur, and all we can do is respond to those events in the best way possible.  

Unfortunately, during those times, we tend to judge and even abandon the ‘fallen’.  We take their ‘falls’ as a betrayal of what they promised and who they are, not being aware of their circumstances.   Instead of remaining vigilant and quiet – reminding ourselves that if we can’t say something good about someone, then it is better to say nothing at all – we abandon those who have taught us and shared their wisdom with us when they need our support the most.

Most people I know have endured some type of traumatic hardship, and some have had to dig themselves out from underground, peel themselves out of bed in the morning, and, once they do, wonder if they will make it through the day.  We might not know that, unless they share their stories with us, which I have found many people eventually do; so, perhaps we can find a way to suspend our judgment and view their uncharacteristic ‘fall’ as a call for help.  Maybe as good followers and students we can demonstrate what we have learned; not technique or aesthetic sensibility alone – but the qualities of a good leader… and not abandon ‘ship’. 

We don’t know what has occurred in another person’s life.  Unless that person tells us the details, we will never know the truth.  Even then, we might never know it fully.  So, if someone we have admired fails, let’s be good followers; let’s not ask more for what they can do for us.  Let’s ask what we can now do for them.  Maybe it can be our way of giving back to them what they have given to us.


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