Some time ago, while sitting waiting in an airport departure lounge, I witnessed a rather unusual sight.
I saw a human being – a forty-something male – lose his mind.
The cause of this person’s lapse into insanity was one which I am sure many of us who travel on airplanes have experienced at some point in our lives.
It all began when the ticket agent announced that our flight would be delayed some 3 to 4 hours due to a mechanical problem with the plane. He went on to say that the airline was trying to find an alternate available plane for us and was not meeting with much success at this moment.
Now I think it is safe to assume that no one in the waiting lounge was pleased with this announcement. Each one of us was there because we had someplace to go and this was the means by which we had planned to get there.
There is no question in my mind that every passenger in the lounge experienced some sense of discomfort. From concern to annoyance to anger to frustration to disappointment we all wrestled with our emotions in the wake of this unexpected announcement.
And all but one of us came to conclusion that “it is what it is” and that any outward burst of emotion would do nothing to bring speedy resolution to the situation.
I did say all but one of us didn’t I?
One of our fellow passengers delivered a remarkable display of emotional control.
Here’s what actually happened.
Within a second or two of the announcement there was the expected hum and buzz of conversation around the departure as people expressed their disappointment and reviewed their options.
And then from somewhere over my left shoulder I heard a really loud angry “oh dear.” Those weren’t the actual words I heard but as this is a family blog I decided against a verbatim transcript and chose to modify the language used by this person so as not to give any readers nightmares.
The person who uttered the “oh dear” rapidly made his way up to the departure desk and demanded to speak with someone in charge. “Immediately. And I mean right now.”
When he was told that the ticket agent was the only person available at that time he asked that wonderful question so frequently asked of people who seem to be confused about their identity, “Do you know who I am?”
He then demanded that something be done immediately, that he be instantly placed on another plane and that failure to do so would result in horrific consequences for both the ticket agent and the airline.
The ticket agent, whose name I later discovered was Pete, explained that there were no available seats on any other flights and that the airline was doing everything it could to resolve this situation as rapidly as possible
This seemed to only add to his anger.
He informed Pete that he just wasn’t going to take it anymore. He had had enough of this kind of treatment and that they [we’re not quite sure who they are)] were going to pay for this.
And he continued his rant, even “guaranteeing” that he was going to have Pete fired.
This threat made perfect sense as clearly Pete was the person responsible for the delay.
Just watching his performance was a lesson in theatrical mastery.
Or more accurately, emotional non-mastery.
He was so angry he was actually vibrating. Slowly rocking from side to side as his voice grew louder and louder. He had his back to us so we I can only assume that his facial expressions reflected nothing but joy and a wide smile as he continued to berate Pete for some three or four minutes once again asking that terror-inducing question “do you have any idea who I am?”
Pete, I’m sure a very experienced person, and one who, no doubt, was quite used to this type of treatment, and who, by this time, had taken all the abuse he was going to take from this passenger, responded to that question with what I thought was an absolutely masterful manner. He replied “no sir, I do not know who you are, but I’m rapidly getting a strong sense of what you are.”
This brought a round of applause from many of us in the waiting area who had been watching this scenario unfold The applause caught the attention of Captain Charming who turned and glared at all of us before storming out of the departure lounge angrily muttering under his breath.
There’s an old saying that tells us that “some people brighten up a room just by leaving it,” and his departure produced another spontaneous round of applause.
Here’s this thing? The one person most able to help all of us obtain alternate transportation was that ticket agent.
It seems to me that alienating the one person most able to help in a situation is not a particularly bright thing to do.
This person’s approach did not seem like a particularly effective strategy.
In fact, it seems to me that treating that person politely, professionally and respectfully would b the most intelligent approach if one harboured any hopes of finding satisfactory resolution to this matter.
And yet somehow our friend seemed to lose all impulse control, all ability to think clearly, and was so overcome and driven by his emotion – his anger – that he seemed to lose all possibility, or potential for rational thinking.
As mentioned earlier, none of us appreciate and enjoy these types of experiences. None of are pleased when our flights are delayed. But we do accept that these things happen – they are what they are, and we all try and cope with them in the best way that we are capable of doing.
We’ve also talked frequently about how our emotions drive our actions; how we only ever do one thing – we do what’s important to us in the moment – and that importance is decided by whether our actions will bring us pleasure or assist us in avoiding pain.
We have also talked much about how we confuse correlation with cause and effect – how we connect events in our lives to how we feel as if the events caused the feelings when, in fact, events don’t cause feelings. Feelings are caused by the MEANING we place on the events, not the events.
All of us in that lounge experienced the same event – our flight was delayed – but most of us were able to place meaning on that event that enabled us to remain in control of our feelings and seek resolution.
I suspect that most of us did something like this:
– We reviewed the situation.
– We accepted the reality of the situation – it is what it is.
– We evaluated our objectives – what are our goals?
– We reviewed alternatives – what are the different ways available to us to reach our goals?
– We selected the alternative we deemed most viable.
I suspect our ranting friend deployed a somewhat different strategy.
– He reviewed the situation.
– Connected very unpleasant meaning to the situation.
– Believed that his anger was caused by the announced delay and not by the meaning he placed on the delay.
– And, fueled by that anger, did what was most important to him in that moment.
When we finally boarded a replacement plane some time later we all heard him redirecting his anger towards the cabin crew.
Presumably they too had played a role in the delay of his flight.
I did learn something extremely valuable from his outburst.
He taught me this: everybody provides great value, even if only to serve as a very good example of a very bad example.
Till we read again.