A Realization on a Grismal Day

First things first: the word “grismal.” It pretty much speaks for itself but you can find a proper description of it in this recent post by Dave at Pairodox Farm. After seeing his post and sensing the same mood in our weather I want out for a walk in the woods behind the house.


This winter got off to a fierce start. All through December and for part of January the temperatures ranged between -10 C and -20 C. We had a lot of snow as well, probably around 120 cm fell over the same 6-week period.

But then it broke. Suddenly the temperatures reversed. Overnight, it seems we went to mid teens. It rained too. After a week of rain and mild temperatures most of the snow is gone. Now it’s light rain and fog.


Funny about these grismal days. The mild weather seems to make all of your senses that much more acute. You hear things you might otherwise miss. Sometimes you see unexpected things too.


Some of the things you see exist solely in your mind. Walking along the quiet woods, listening to the rain gently fall all around you gives ample opportunity to reflect.

Reflect on the many people you’ve met.

Like the trees in the picture those people are in many ways the same when you don’t look too closely. On even the slightest inspection, though, subtle differences reveal themselves. Every one is different, some more than others.


A lifetime spent working with others has led to something of a realization. Think of a “typical” group of 20 people that you have encountered. Perhaps for you, too, it seems to break down like the list that follows.

  • Fifteen have been just fine. In all regards they are generally a joy to be around.
  • Four have been somewhat difficult. Perhaps they are a somewhat argumentative; disagreeable. Perhaps they hold values that run counter to yours. Maybe they just have a habit of doing things that annoy you.
  • One out of every 20 people is such that that the pain and the effort required to maintain a relationship with them is just not worth the effort. Most would probably agree that that 1 out of 20 is afflicted with some undesirable tendencies such as: violent psychotic behaviour, chronic narcissism or what is usually termed “anti social personality disorder.” Colloquially we say these people are “not fit,” and you would be well-advised take great care with your involvement with people in this category.


On a personal note the knowledge of that general breakdown has been a constant source of comfort and relief. Frequently in my life I have had to work through situations that were at best stressful so the knowledge that the source of that stress was one of those five people (perhaps that 1 our of 20) made the situation manageable. I could see that the situation was not a typical one and even though I had to be more careful or patient than usual in this case, it was not necessarily a sign that a bigger problem was afoot.

And I managed to get through quite a few situations that way without losing it.


Getting by, day to day, is not easy. It seems that we spend most of our time just focusing on the next step. We move forward with our heads down, watching for obstacles in that ongoing effort to just put one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes, though, we get the chance to stop that for a bit. A quiet walk in the woods is one of those times. Surrounded by trees, sheltered from the wind & noise and hearing little other than the gentle falling rain your mind wanders and lets you see things differently.

I started thinking about that 15-4-1 breakdown and began wondering if it worked in reverse. Of any typical group of twenty people who know me do:

  • 15 find me okay;
  • 4 find me a bit difficult and;
  • 1 find me not fit?

Sure, I like to think of myself as genial and am certain that quite a few people do find me okay. As a successful professional I can also state with confidence that very few find me “not fit.”

But as for that group in the middle, the “somewhat difficult” crowd, I was left with the realization that a significant number of people in my life have likely me put in that group. And it was probably more than 4 out of 20.


Just what do you do when a realization leaves you momentarily broken? The first instinct is a mixture of disbelief and mild despair, “Surely I’m that person!” What to do? How about what I always do: give it time; think about it.

The wide expanse of a pond reminds you that, while details count, so, too, does the big picture. That ice–not safe. Got to take the long way around once again. Even more time to think.


A delay gives the chance to look back. The view reveals even more details. It’s such a relief when you get the time to let System 2 thinking make sense of it all. Logic and facts remind you that that we generally have good reasons for the choices we make and, if, in the end, what we have done makes us “difficult” in the eyes of some then so be it.


Is it just me or is it brighter? It’s funny how a painful realization can first bring despair but then, perhaps, a sense of freedom. It’s time to turn for home.


There’s work to be done; things to be mended.

And not all those things are “things.”


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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18 Responses to A Realization on a Grismal Day

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    Magnificent job, Maurice. You have captured our environment perfectly through both your narrative and pictures, except for the omission of all the ice pellets and freezing rain, also now (temporarily) vanquished by this prolonged warm spell. Your analysis of interpersonal relationships works intrigues me, and, although I hadn’t thought about it that way, I think you’re onto something, including it working in both directions. We don’t think about how others perceive us as much as perhaps we should! I’m thinking of my colleagues at UNB, who have been on the picket line for the first time ever, and imagining the myriad of thoughts that must be going through their minds. The “we”s vs the “them”s; who’s right and who’s wrong; how did we ever get to this point? Maybe for every 20 on both sides, 15 are right, 4 are wrong, and 1 is just a bloody bastard?! Thanks for a thoughtful read.

    • There’s no way of predicting for sure where your mind will go when it has some quiet time. I still have no way of knowing what happens when my supposed relationship is taken in the opposite direction but it did make me think. I have to admit that it was not all dismal–I even laughed aloud when I realized what it meant.

  2. jennypellett says:

    Well, that was a metaphorical melancholic ramble through your woods, Maurice. I thoroughly enjoyed it though and as usual, you have left me with something to think about. My immediate reaction to your pictures was to think of poetry by Robert Frost – lines such as ‘whose woods are these, I think I know, his house is in the village though’ and ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less travelled by,’ would caption them perfectly and possibly reflect your mood.
    We also have a saying here – ‘Can’t see the wood for the trees’ which, I reckon, particularly suits picture number four.
    As to the analysis of symbiotic relationships – I’ll have to think longer and harder about that one. I’m pretty sure that more than one fifth of people would find me difficult but not so sure that one would be so acute as to fall into the ‘not fit’ category. Or am I kidding myself? Hmm. I shall ponder on…
    And yes, I’m learning at long last that there is always something to mend – be it practical or metaphysical.

    • Thank you. I had fun writing this one. Too bad it’s only been read 15 times and I imagine that will be about it since this is a new blog. What odds–I’m not “paid by the reader.”
      …and it’s still fairly mild out. The tenp. is just at freezing right now and we might bet a dusting of snow overnight but at elast we’re not back in the think of winter/ I’ll take what I can get in the meantime.
      …and try to be a little less difficult.
      maybe 🙂

  3. An interesting series of thoughts which I believe to be quite true. There’s a facet of your reversed taxonomy which you haven’t addressed however … and that is the ‘why’ of why some folks might find you ‘unfit’ if, in fact, they have classified you that way. I suppose, in all of my life, I have interacted with fewer than 10 folks who were ‘unfit,’ and I know darn well why I would label them that way. But, I wonder, has anyone labeled me similarly? And, if so, why? Really … I’d like to know why. If I have been so labeled by someone, and I cannot figure out why, is it that my self-image is so hopelessly twisted that I cannot see it? Would that be some sort of psychologically programmed way of protecting myself? I am pretty sure that I know of one person who would have labeled me as ‘unfit’ and I have tried for years, without success, to figure out why. Do all of us, who have been so labeled, make it the fault of the one who labeled us rather than our own? No one wants to take blame for being ‘unfit,’ it must be the other guy’s problem. So complicated. And, finally, I will have to take a view counter to your last thought … if someone has found you ‘unfit’ I don’t believe that that particular ‘thing’ can be fixed … for a number of reasons. And what motivation can there be for trying to correct the label when it has perhaps been wrongly applied? Again … this is complex … and perhaps beyond my ability to resolve. Deep thoughts on what looked to be a pleasant walk. D

    • Those are interesting reflections. I am still fairly sure that few have found me “unfit” and imagine that’s the same with you. Frankly, in either case I would not bother to give it much thought because, “difficult” or not it’s unlikely that on any objective means either one of us has any serious pathological issues. We’re humn an sometimes the best of intentions have bad outcomes.
      Now back to the whole “unfit” thing in general. The DSM (4 or 5 pick your poison) lists quite a number of disorders, especially the ones I listed in the post, in which an individual is unable or at least unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. It will always be the other person’s fault and that’s that. These, in particular, are the ones I try to limit my involvement with. Look, we all make mistakes and some of our mistakes do cause real damage but healthy persons come round to accepting responsibility for them and, maybe, doing redress and reconciliation, as well as making sure it doesn’t happen again. The “not fit” types, though can’t do this unless coerced and, what’s more, cannot really be taught to do it. So, with that in mind I figure it’s best for people like me to (a) constantly reflect on the times when we were at fault and work on it (b) support others trying to do the same and (c) understand and generally support the various aspects of our society (law enforcement, social workers, health care and education workers) that have to work through the wake of what happens when the “not fit” types do their dirty work.
      Any way, like I said above I actually laughed aloud to myself at some point after the realization set in when I taught of how the person I think I am (friendly, reasonable and helpful) can sometimes be, in fact (and not opinion) someone else’s “jerk.”
      So maybe I should:
      (a) weep then seek reconciliation because there were times when I truly did the wrong thing. Though well-intentioned I’m far from perfect.
      (b) forget about it because sometimes when I did, though perceived “wrong” by another was the best choice. Hey–it’s easy to blame the boss for making the choice you were too cowardly to make yourself.
      (c) work on recognizing which is which in each case.
      And on it goes, and I will screw up again, no doubt. 🙂

  4. elkement says:

    A very intriguing combination of images and narrative!!

    I have come to the following conclusion with respect to the “unfit problem” – no matter who considers whom “unfit” or otherwise unbearable … I became more and more picky about with whom to work or spend time in general. I just avoid exposure to people I am not compatible with.

    • And that sounds like good advice. You are likely a lot like me and can get lost in any job so the nature of the work and the physical surroundings are more-or-less immaterial. What does matter, though, are the people with whom we must interact and, so, our level of satisfaction bears more on them than on anything else. Yes, people make or break it. Most people 15/20 are fine as is some, 4/20, though often difficult can be managed and, besides, because they challenge you they often draw out the best in you. The remainder, 1/20, though cannot be managed or tolerated and need to be avoided whenever possible. I would not knowingly take on a job that required me to interact regularly (that is, I was dependent on them) with one of those types either.

      • elkement says:

        I agree – the immaterial nature of a job would not help if you cannot get along with people involved. I rather meant picking only those project requests associated also with people you enjoy working with.

        What I also found: If something really important is at risk anybody is easier to work with – no time for office politics and psychopath behaviour if the building is about to break so to speak. As much as I have cursed troubleshooting often – that’s an upside.

  5. Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing these reflections – Enjoyed the view – especially the images of the incongruous rusted out vehicle juxtaposed with the snapped tree branch lying in the snow- the orange colour in each case revealing their ‘brokenness’ – so out of place in this environment. Interesting reflection on the ratio of difficult and “unfit’ folks in a sampling of 20.
    I think it might also depend on where the sampling is taken from
    – Some cultures of workers and leaders or players and coaches in the case of this weekend’s hockey game between the Canucks and the Flames may have more than a few narcissistic or violent souls in the mix while others, say a group of daycare teachers – less so.
    Got me thinking also on ‘things’ I need to see to mending also.

  6. Glad to find a new post on this blog! I enjoyed reading the thoughts of your analytical mind on something I’ve been occupied with much of my career – human relations in work environment. I’ve probably met a hugely disproportional share of the “one’s” and spent disproportional time in trying to make them fit in or move out – peacefully, when possible. I got a few threats along the way, which was unavoidable, I guess. Phew… happy that I can now select which projects I take on and which not. Anyway, it is healthy for all of us to reflect on how others see us. I try to do that periodically and always learn something new, something to work on 🙂

    • Thanks for the visit! Yes, it’s always a good idea to go back and take a good look at what others see when they look at us as it’s often not what we might think. Of course it’s hard to be objective about ourselves, but we can glean good hints from what good friends and colleagues say to us in honesty. Quite a few years back, when I first studied Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, “Intra-personal Intelligence” was of particular interest. Those who score low in this one often tend to also be somewhat incompetent because they lack the ability to judge their own level of understanding. Simply put, they don’t know what they don’t know and therefore assume that all is well.

      • Absolutely true! I’ve worked quite a lot on Emotional Intelligence (EI) in work groups and organizational settings. EI has some elements of Gardner’s intra-personal, inter-personal and some of the other forms of intelligence as well. Testing my own EI in the process over time gave some surprising and useful insights 🙂

  7. Marie says:

    The weather most certainly affects our moods, but you have taken the gray and created light. I noted tones of melancholy bookmarked by humor and beauty. Lovely reflective post, Maurice.

  8. Well that’s an easy one to comment on. I have no doubt that I would be the one out of 20 (so nice to be unique and stand out from the crowd). Similarly I would probably like one person out of 20, find 4 tolerable and loathe the other 15.

    After 50 odd years of being a loner and an only child, I’m used to it and can live within myself. If you tend to be unconventional/think unconventional thoughts then you accept you won’t be part of mainstream society (but nor do you want to be).

    Getting along with the people you need to do because you have to, and mixing with people through choice are very different. So therefore I concentrate on the former, with whom I am occasionally quite nice.

    • Try as you might unfortunately it would be hard to rationally justify you as a “one.” While you may be stubborn (which can also mean steadfast) and opinionated (which can also mean principled) those by themselves should not be the criteria, although most of my “ones” and many of my “fours” would beg to differ. To be a one you would also have to be exclusively self-centered and be incapable of recognizing any other’s rights. Having read most of your blog posts I would consider that unlikely in your case. So, nope, you’re probably mostly a “four” just like me. 🙂

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