Kill ‘Em With Kindness

Dec 1, 2013 by

Ok. I get it. I really do. Hearing someone loudly complain on a plane, or a grocery store, or the DMV about how annoyed they are about losing minutes (if not hours) of their life to the slow checker, the inefficient bureaucracy, or a delayed flight, makes us all want to stand up and yell, “HEY! You’re not the only one suffering through this, you’re just the one making it more miserable for the rest of us!”

Enter our “hero”, Elan Gale, crusher of cranky people everywhere. He did what all of us should aspire to do, he bravely stood up to a super scary lady in 7A who was having a bad day, and he made it worse. Much, much worse. YAAAAaaaaayyyy ELAN!

There are some who would call Elan a Bully. Others who question his veracity. And finally, and most damning of all, a relative of the Super Scary Lady in 7A explains that this woman, her aunt, had recently learned she is dying of terminal cancer, and while she may not have been dealing with the news well, she was in fact traveling for what was likely her last Thanksgiving. But frankly, you have to look hard to find these opinions. Just google Elan Gale and you’ll find hit after hit of posts that could be paraphrased as “Yaaaaaaaayyyyy ELAN!”

And frankly, Elan has a pretty good follow-up to the whole experience on his blog, one I tend to agree with: be nice to people in service positions, they are only doing their job. I would further that by saying, even if they are doing it poorly, that’s no excuse to be an asshole to them, just be grateful you’re the one being serviced instead of the one doing the servicing.

But if I may be so bold, I might also add one other thing for Elan to think about, and maybe even blog about. When someone is being a jerk, the reason is usually that they are VERY, VERY UNHAPPY PEOPLE. Not just in that moment, but in life. In this case, the Super Scary Lady in 7A was unhappy due to terminal, stage 4 cancer. That sucks for her, but it also sucks for Elan, because I’m willing to guess terminal cancer wasn’t even on his radar for reasons the Super Scary Lady in 7A was being such a super scary lady. And now he’s the guy who bullied the woman with terminal cancer. There’s no getting around it, he can’t be happy about this turn in his story.

But let us just assume she’s our average, every day, miserable person. Her misery brought on by anything from her unfortunate upbringing to a life of detached entitlement. No matter what the reason for her bad attitude, Elan could have made one solid assumption, before he sent that first note: the Super Scary Lady in 7A is a very unhappy person, trapped in a very unhappy life, and there is room to be grateful for his life and feel sorry for hers.

Maybe, if he had done that, he might have adjusted his tone away from dickishness, and killed her with kindness instead?  I’m not saying an attitude adjustment on her part wasn’t due, but there was a better way to do it. And anyone who says otherwise, simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that they were participating in perpetuating this nastiness by cheering Elan on.

There was a better way, a funnier way, a kinder way, a more effective way, and he didn’t choose it.

Let me walk you through it, if I may. This is my alternate universe version of events, where the Super Scary Lady in 7A is just a scary, but Elan is just a little more brave, a little more understanding, and a LOT less interested in a splashy twitter show.

Elan Gale (twitter hero) @theyearofelan: Our flight is delayed. A woman on here is very upset because she has Thanksgiving plans. She is the only one obviously. Praying for her.

EG: She’s telling the flight attendants that it is Thanksgiving. She wants them to know she wants to have dinner with her family.

EG: The male flight attendant said “I understand ma’am. I’m looking forward to seeing my family too.” She responded, “This isn’t about you”

EG: Her family is very important to her, she says. Her family has a special recipe for stuffing. She needs to be there to help. It is crucial.

EG: She has a connecting flight. Why doesn’t anyone understand she has a connecting flight? Why do people not understand her needs?

EG: “Today is Thanksgiving! I’m supposed to be with my family. NOT with you people I barely know!”

EG: She had to sit down because we took off. She has been muttering “about DAMN time” and I can hear her breathing from 5 rows back

Now… let’s re-write history:

EG: I sent the lady a glass of wine and a note. (note says: Dear Lady in 7A, It has come to all of our attention that you are less than pleased with how the airline (and in particular the flight attendants) are performing while working on a holiday as important as Thanksgiving. I hear you… I should say, we ALL hear you, this is a total bummer. I don’t think anyone on this plane, including the flight attendants, would argue that this sucks. But now that we are all safely under way, I hope you will accept this glass of wine with my sincere hope that the rest of our travels will go far more smoothly so that we can ALL be home to celebrate and be thankful with those we love. Love Elan)

And then you know what happens?

Nothing.

Nothing else happens for the rest of the flight because this angry woman was not told to keep her mouth shut by shoving a glass of wine in it. She was not further incensed by two follow-up bottles of Vodka, insisting that she retaliate.

She was instead made aware that her captive audience didn’t enjoy the show, and that perhaps she’d forgotten the spirit of her favorite holiday.

Perhaps, having been given a chance to think about her behavior in silence, she is EXTRA nice to the flight attendants, and MAYBE even apologizes, excusing her bad behavior by telling them she’s going through a lot right now.

Oh yeah… and Elan maybe doesn’t get his twitter feed covered by every online rag out there, which was probably the whole point anyway. But…like I said, this is an alternate universe – the one I’d like to live in.

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