I often have occasion to remark that we don’t know what goes on behind other people’s closed doors. Some people are open about their inner life, venting to friends or oversharing with mere acquaintances. Others are locked up tight, more likely to seek relief in a bottle or a pill while trying to maintain the appearance that everything is okay.

Our industry exacerbates the trouble many people have in communicating emotional pain or need. A peril of creating special events for other people is that when we’re surrounded by fun, we are working and have to focus on getting the job done safely and on schedule. Given our hours and travels, even our down time is often work time. People without a strong support network can find themselves in a deep and very dark place, alone. (Cue the title track for this Adelman on Venues.)

I worked on a case recently where a security supervisor lost his temper and yelled at a patron who challenged his authority. This seems like a common occupational hazard of working security, so I asked if he had lashed out like this before. He had not. I knew there had been a catastrophic event in the next town earlier that same day, so I asked if could be any connection. It turned out that the guard’s wife worked in the next town, in the building next to where several people had just been killed. She was understandably a wreck, and her need for comfort and understanding was obvious to anyone who knew her. Her husband showed up for work that night, because that’s where he was expected to be. To outward appearances, he was managing event security like always, but it turned out that he had too much going at home on to handle the emotionally challenging parts of his job.

In hindsight, he probably should not have been at work at all. Someone should have sent him away to be with his wife. Someone should have known he was in pain too. Someone should have made the connection that he could not or would not make for himself. But his response was to put on a strong appearance and do his job. A noble sentiment that helps our industry make the impossible happen nightly, but which can eventually lead people to quit, to emotionally withdraw, to bury their feelings in something else.

I have a new thought about situational awareness, a concept we usually discuss in the context of bad guys and airport signs to “See Something, Say Something.” Most of us are surrounded by people where we work, but how often do we really see each other or take the time to find out how our peers are doing? No one would blame you if your first reaction to a curt or grumpy co-worker is to walk away – but maybe, once in a while, if you take a moment to ask why they seem unhappy, you might help them make a human connection when they need one, even if they don’t have the words to articulate that need. That would make a safer work environment for everyone.

So here is an improved version of the comment with which I began this post:

We don’t know what goes on behind other people’s closed doors – unless we ask.

Be kind out there.

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