A recent experience on a flight home from Brisbane to Melbourne inspired me to write a blog – any blog, just one that allowed me to vent my irritation. The experience in question left me so annoyed I felt compelled to share how I felt with anyone mildly interested and willing to listen. You may be relieved to know that I have calmed down and intend for this blog to be more than that. Over the last couple of days I have processed what happened and recognized my emotions for what they are. I intend to share with you the underlying lesson I took from observing two people, who compared to most of us hold highly privileged positions in life, behaving badly.
Sat in row 3, I was travelling next to a rather large high profile rugby league player and his wife. If you aren’t familiar with the average plane configuration this meant we were up the front and in clear view of the air stewards. At first I was amused, then bemused and as the flight progressed ultimately riled by the behaviour of my two travel companions. I noticed their air of superiority and lack of warmth toward people as they queued to board. However I didn’t pay too much attention to them until Mr. Rugby sat down so hard in his seat that I was lifted out of my own.
Then came the ever-contentious issue of the armrest. To be clear, I believe if you’re seated in the middle, as Mrs. Rugby was you have ‘right of way’ when it comes to using the armrests. However, this does not make it acceptable for your sharply protruding elbows to encroach on the space of the person beside you. When Mrs. Rugby did this at first I chose to believe it was a momentary oversight. Her failure to move however made her intention clear – she considered my space her space and she was claiming it.
You may at this point be thinking that my feelings toward these people are disproportionately strong relative to their conduct so far. And you may be right. However what happens next is where I concluded they are very uncool. Just 15 – 20 minutes before landing they both whipped out their mobile phones and started checking Facebook, texting friends and sending emails. Thinking they must be offline but still curious I looked closer and saw that they were in fact exchanging messages. When the seatbelt sign came on, signaling the time to turn off electronic equipment neither bothered to respond.
When I saw the air steward coming toward us (he who had been gushing over Mr. Rugby throughout the flight) I was sure they would be told to turn their phones off. But no, the steward ignored what Mr. and Mrs. Rugby were doing and walked past. Even when her phone toned loudly with an incoming message they avoided his attention. As the same and then another air steward walked past, checking passengers were complying with ‘prepare for landing’ instructions, I became increasingly annoyed as they overlooked our row.
Having travelled on literally hundreds of flights over the last couple of years I know if you don’t shut down laptops, iPods, iPads etc immediately following being told to do so, the cabin crew are typically ‘all over you’. As we touched down with my neighbors still online raging through my mind where thoughts like “if it’s dangerous to use phones on planes, then surely it’s dangerous for everyone” and “I bet if I was using my phone they’d be quick to tell me to turn it off”. I even contemplated complaining to the staff at the gate when I landed or whether I would need to go to the airlines website.
Later when reflecting on how the entire event had made me feel I wondered why it bothered me so much. The realization I came to was this; I’m concerned about the injustices in this world that are enabled by the rank and status we unconditionally bestow upon certain members of our community. When these people abuse the privileges that come with the elevated and often protected positions we give them it makes me angry. The arrogance of Mr. and Mrs. Ruby choosing to disregard safety policies simply for their own convenience and gratification is unacceptable. The cabin crew’s inconsistent application of the airlines policies is equally unacceptable.
What this experience revealed to me is that those of us who put the rich and famous on a pedestal give them permission to behave as though they are above the rest of us. This is especially true when we continue to show our adoration and give our support when they behave badly. I’m astounded how often people in powerful and high profile positions not only avoid accountability, but continue to enjoy successful careers and fortunate lives after being found to have committed selfish, heartless and at times criminal acts. The limits of our tolerance seem endless when we continue to buy the music of violent people, invest in the companies of corrupt leaders and bow down to bratty divas.
At what point do we draw the line and impose boundaries of acceptable conduct that every member of our community is held accountable to? If we truly want a fair and just society we need to get over these people so they can get over themselves. If we want public figures to be a good example to our children, and indeed us all, we need to pay due respect but stop gushing and allowing them to behave like spoiled brats. We need to stand beside them not beneath them and realize that every single one of us matters as much as the other.
We need to expect respectful behaviours from every member of our community no matter their status. It doesn’t matter what job we do, how much money we have or the level of our fame, no one is more important than the next person. We should appreciate the skill and hard work of successful athletes, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, senior leaders but also realize that their jobs or achievements don’t make them more deserving of respect than any other person living an honorable life. Of course we should acknowledge and appreciate their contributions, but we should never let them believe they are more important and most certainly not above everyone else or the law.