God has such a wonderful sense of humor.
No sooner had I written last month’s column about the need to get out of our “comfort zones,” I had a chance to test my own philosophy. In the article, I suggested we reach out to others, even when it’s uncomfortable.
That’s before I ran into the guy sitting in seat 3-A on a flight from New York to San Diego. More about him in a moment.
A few years ago I was speaking at a conference in Atlanta. As I welcomed the crowd, setting the tone for the day, it was time to introduce Adm. Vern Clark, former chief of U.S. Naval Operations.
In opening remarks I lamented that maybe our country was getting a little jaded after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cited my flight into Georgia, when a flight attendant did an announcement that several active duty men and women were on board… and no one paid attention. Well, barely. Just a smattering of applause.
I then challenged attendees to make it a point to greet anyone we see in uniform, thanking them for their service, always. Later that day, I walked over to a nearby Atlanta mall food court. There, suddenly, was a sea of military personnel, probably 100 men and women.
God’s sense of humor indeed. I quickly understood that it’s not always as easy as it sounds to do something that makes a difference. However it is important to start somewhere, even if everything or everyone can’t be covered.
Back to the guy in Seat 3-A.
After a whirlwind business trip to New York, I was flying home. It had been a busy couple of days, so I was ready to relax. As I settled in to seat 3-B, I noticed the older man in 3-A seemed fidgety and irritable. He was also a little large for the seat, even in first class.
From the first words uttered, it was evident he sounded like he had been cast as a stereotypical New Yorker… anything he said had a “Hey, whatta you lookin’ at?” tone.
Other than a courtesy “hello” I didn’t feel like yakking with someone surly, the entire flight. So I immersed myself in emails and reading, while Mr. 3-A spewed his first greeting to the flight attendant:
“Hey! Got any wattuh?”
Yes, she did, and he took it from her without a thank you. Then, on went his noise-reduction headphones (for him, not anyone else).
The barking of orders continued, then eventually there was the over-loud chomping of food that would drive Miss Manners up a wall or two.
“I’ll have the chicken.”
“Ya gotta a fork?”
“Got any salt?”
Not long after the initial rudeness, the pleasant, upbeat flight attendant dropped a tray full of glasses in the adjacent galley. It was clear the guy had gotten to her, and it was going to be a long flight.
I decided to move forward and visit the lavatory. On the way, I took the flight attendant aside and whispered something, letting her know I was concerned about the passenger. She replied, “Yes! He really rattled me.” It was all over her face: Thanks for caring. I noted that she only broke a couple of glasses, no one got hurt, all was well, overall.
Easing the tension
There wasn’t a person within earshot of the Guy in 3-A who didn’t feel uncomfortable. And the louder and more boorish he was, the more it made others fidgety.
So I committed to going a little overboard for rest of the flight. When I asked for something, it was back to “please and thank you” basics. But I laid it on a little thicker, every time I had a chance.
After another hour, the results became noticeable. My seatmate began to say “please” more often, with an occasional “thank you VERY much.”
He still wasn’t very sociable, and with headphones use it was clear he didn’t want to chat, either. But as he became more civil, the tension decreased in the cabin.
Once we left the plane (or as airlines call it, amusingly, “de-plane-ing”) the man was on the cell phone with his wife on the East Coast, apparently continuing whatever wound him up before takeoff.
I know we can’t solve everyone’s problems, nor is it always possible to start a conversation. But we can always find the right words—pleasant things to say—that can improve situations and change the immediate atmosphere around us.
— by Mark Larson
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at www.marklarson.com.