Flying is simply part of how I “commute” to work. Sometimes, just like on highway 88 in Illinois or 101 in California, you can run into really interesting examples of human behavior.
In Los Angeles, the other day, I had an opportunity to witness some of it.
At the rental car return 7 of us, then 11 of us, were waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport terminal. Then it was 12 of us. One of the twelve was quite vocal about the annoyance this was causing her. Her voice, her complaints, resonated with most of us. Then she kept demanding answers from a manager who didn’t have any answers.
Another car rental company’s shuttle driver approached the drop off area for a second time, assessed the situation and chose kindness.
“I’ll take you,” he offered. “Come on – I have a couple of people waiting to get back to the airport that I need to pick up around the corner then I can take all of you.”
We swarmed down to his bus and, with many “thank you’s!” we boarded.
Along the way, the same traveler suggested he change his route – it would, she asserted, be faster. He politely declined; he had a route mandated by his boss. On the third time she tried to redirect him, he asked, looking up at the ceiling of the bus, “do you want to drive too?”
I was one of the last people he dropped off. I gave him a tip as a thank you for going out of his way. He was pleasantly surprised and, almost as an afterthought, said that this was the only tip he had been offered.
I was embarrassed on behalf of my fellow travelers. I muttered something about how I appreciated what he did and walked into the terminal, shaking my head.
Many of the travelers that driver helped out were easily wearing more on their backs than he would make in a week. But that was not the heart of my distress.
What really bugged me was this:
Have we become so entitled that we believe that saying ‘Thank you’ to people covers it all? – even when people go out of their way? That’s it?
I hope not. In this increasingly divided economic reality fewer and fewer people struggle to get to the end of the month without facing hard budget choices. I mean hard decisions like “how much can I spend on groceries without having to call a few friends to see if we can carpool to work?” It may mean going in a couple of hours early or staying late but it would save critical money.
I don’t mean choices of “I really wanted to buy those shoes, that suit, that backpack, but I’m also saving for a Caribbean cruise so maybe I should hold off”.
When you choose not to be kind or generous in return for treatment that has been kind and generous it tells me something. It suggests that you are pretty sure that you are more important than they are.
Are you? Are you just in too much of a hurry to turn your attention away from yourself to a gesture of appreciation?
So what is it that keeps civility and good behavior going? Sometimes it’s the way we were raised. Sometimes it’s the surety of a “heaven or hell” type of choice. Sometimes it’s being aware that the extreme focus on whatever we care about in that moment is making us blind to our fellow human beings. And, while we may not always realize it, sometimes it’s our mirror neurons kicking in when we are around civil and well-behaved people.
The scary part is that those mirror neurons also pick up on patterns of behavior that, if we really think about it, we don’t actually want to adopt. So I am taking a stand.
I don’t waste time and energy being frustrated by people who are self-centric, dismissive of the needs of others, or simply oblivious to the guidelines of ethical and humane treatment of others. I have decided, instead, to view those experiences as object lessons.
Will you join me there?