Tuesday, February 20, 2007

entitled people

First off: Dave, you're probably right. I grew up in a Northern state and so we had both Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. (I don't remember getting them off from school but I do remember "special topics" on those days related to the presidents).

The state I lived in prior to the one I live in now even had Casimir Pulaski Day. (Hah. I wonder how many people - even IN that state - under the age of, say, 30 [maybe 40] know who Pulaski was?)

(Perhaps that should be the condition for getting the day off: if you can name two important facts about the person whose day it is.)


I've been watching a little bit of the Jet Blue balls-up. I admit, I don't feel like I have the whole story here and doubtless someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but here's what it looks like to me:

Big, bad storm, worse than expected. Airline had to cancel a lot of flights. Bad communication after the storm exacerbated the problem.

And you know? A lot of it is what we used to call "An act of God" before mentioning "God" got you marked as some kind of possibly-dangerous religious nutcase theocrat.

But I watched coverage of people...just random people in the airport...talking about it. And granted: probably a lot of them were tired. And a lot of them were fed up. And a lot of them were worried about getting to their destinations.

But: almost to a man, the people I saw interviewed seemed to have two components to their attitudes:

1. "This is the WORST THING EVER that could EVER HAPPEN!"
2. "Jet Blue is doing this SPECIFICALLY to thwart my desires and damage me!"

And there was a lot of talk about "never" using Jet Blue again, or about suing, or about how their offer to fly the person to their destination AND THEN GIVE THEM A FREE TICKET for their troubles wasn't good enough.

And just so you know: I have my share of bad travel stories. I've sat on planes that were "stranded" on the tarmac for many hours - in Hawaii, in midsummer. (And the airline started giving away free mai tais to people on board. And at the time I was still underage. And they didn't seem to be able to scare up a 7-up or something for me. But whatever. We eventually got underway). I have been on trains that were 12+ hours late, thanks to bad weather (ice storm) and a freight derailing ahead of them on the tracks. And yeah, it sucks to be stuck on a train for hours and hours and hours. But you know? It wasn't Amtrak's fault. If they could have magically made the problem go away and been on time, they would have done it. I still use Amtrak despite the occasional latenesses.

Bad stuff happens. You just have to live with it sometimes.

Now, if the engineer had stopped the train, and come walking through the cars, demanding that each and every person onboard pay him an additional $50 in order to get to their destination, then there'd be a problem. Then there'd be something worth calling Amtrak and complaining over. But not over a Union Pacific train going wheels-up on the track ahead of us. No one has control over that.

And you know, in my more pessimistic moments, I think about what may eventually bring this country down. And when I see behavior like this, I'm inclined to think that it won't be terrorists, or some crackpot dictator somewhere with a nuke, or someone unleashing smallpox or Ebola or bird flu, or even the rift between Red and Blue. No, we will die as a nation because we reach a critical mass of people who think that every single thing that goes wrong in their life is designed and done SPECIFICALLY to hurt them, and that they are deserving of MAJOR compensation for those hurts. That the only possible reason something bad could happen is because someone has it in for them.

I don't know. I have two responses to people like that:

1. Priorities, people! This is really and truly not THE WORST THING EVER. Most of the people interviewed were going to Cancun or Cozumel or somewhere like that. They weren't mostly flying home to see a dying relative. They weren't mostly on their way to Mayo Clinic with their sick child to try to find the right treatment. They were going on vacation.

And, I know: I hate the whole "my tragedy is worse than your tragedy so STHU*" game that some people like to play. I realize that we all have problems.

But. I got a phone call last night about a couple who are friends of mine. The man has been battling lung cancer. Well, he is back in the hospital, this time on oxygen, and they've called in the kids. (Meaning: he is most likely dying).

(*STHU = "Shut the Hell up." A slightly more polite version of a phrase that usually features an F)

It's hard for me to work up a lot of sympathy for someone who was thwarted in their plans to go lie on the beach in Cancun when I think of Mr. F. fighting for every breath.

I also have several days this week - yesterday was one - where I am involved somehow with work, volunteer work, or classes for 14 hours. I don't know about you but a 14 hour day is too long for me to be able to spend a lot of my energy feeling sorry about some guy stomping around an airport in New York.

The other thing is - and I've said this before: it bothers me to see people acting as if the sort of random junk that happens in life is PLANNED, that it is happening specifically to thwart their desires and happiness.

I work with someone who takes that attitude on occasion and it is simply a very draining thing to deal with. It's like: Do you live in an alternate reality from me?

And I realize: I am not perfect. There are times I fall into the trap of "poor me" or of feeling almost as if that jerk who pulled into the last parking place, coming around the wrong way, ahead of me, did it specifically to make me late for my meeting, unhappy, flustered, and angry. No. He did it because he saw a parking place. He did it maybe because he's a little bit rude and doesn't ascribe to the rule that if you see someone aiming for a parking place, you let them have it. But he didn't do it because it was ME in the other car.

I come to recognize that eventually. Or I make up stories to make myself feel better: that person who cut me off on the highway was on their way home from work because his wife just called and said their kid has a fever of 104*, and he's worried as hell, and he wasn't paying attention. Or the woman who pushed in front of me in line has less time than I do to get her groceries and by stepping back graciously, I'm doing a "mitzvah" somehow. For me, that's easier than getting angry over all the little slights of everyday life.

But I've seen an awful lot of people lately who seem to take the attitude that if something goes wrong - or even, if something's not 100% perfect according to their expectations - that they are gravely wronged, and they deserve some kind of compensation. I see this in students all the time: the lab took too much work. They had to use a calculator! A week isn't long enough to do a short homework assignment! The class is lecture and there's a shortage of movies and jokes and entertainment and breaks and the teacher doesn't bring donuts to class every day! The book doesn't have an index!

And on, and on.

And I don't know. I look at that kind of thing and I see a fundamental attitude of ingratitude. I see people taking all the good stuff they have for granted, and not seeing anything but the one tiny thing that's not to their liking. Rather like the Princess and the Pea, they can only fixate on the tiny tiny bump in the mattress and are NOT grateful for the fact that they are out of the rain, they have been fed, they are safe, and they have a bed.

I suppose I'm frustrated by that attitude because I was taught early on that there are simply some things in life that you kind of shrug over and deal with. That it's a mark of maturity to be able to let little petty crap slide off you.

(And I will admit: it makes me kind of mad that I let little petty crap slide, and then there are other people who get rewarded for complaining about the very same kind of little petty crap.)

I think, as a nation, we all need to re-learn the Serenity Prayer. (Though, I don't know - in this day and age, promoting anything called a "prayer" might be difficult).

You know it:

God grant me the courage to change the things I can
The serenity to accept the things I cannot
And the WISDOM to know the difference.

The key, I think, for us moderns is the knowing of the difference. Because I see far, far too many people who are insisting on a change when they should be accepting.

(And yeah - I know - it was originally written for dealing with more personal aspects of one's life than flights being cancelled. But I think it applies to those kind of situations too: Is there a real injustice being done? Then do something about it. Is it an "Act of God"? Let it slide.

Again: I think there are far too many people who take the kind of random bad stuff that happens in life as a personal slap in the face, and who get all injured and huffy when perhaps a more useful response is to shrug and say, "Sh*t happens." And maybe think of the things that COULD go wrong but that did not. And maybe be thankful that we live in a country where, for example, air travel is comparatively safe. Or where we have the freedom to travel. Or where we even have the freedom to sit around and bitch about things, even when they're kind of petty things)

And you know? About that "Sh*t happens"? Several years ago I saw a bumper sticker that I thought was a good response to that statement. (I am not a big fan of bumper stickers but I liked this one).

It said: "Blessings happen."

And perhaps, that's a juxtaposition of the two fundamental attitudes people can take: in life, you can look for the sh*t, or you can look for the blessings. And I'm afraid sometimes far too many people are ignoring the blessings and focusing on the sh*t.

(And yeah, yeah, I know the story about the optimist and the room full of manure. You don't need to remind me of it, if you're one of those "always looking for sh*t" types.)


nightfly said...

Casimir Pulaski - isn't there a skyway named after him?

Thou art tracked back, btw.

Kate P said...

In case you'd like to hear some good news, Ricki, this morning the local news radio station had a sound bite from a woman whose plane was delayed and she said she wasn't mad at the airline. She was grateful she got to her destination, because she knew many flights had been canceled.

I would love to hear your thoughts on cyber-manners and the like. Do you think people are ruder or less honest to others because they can't see others' faces? And has that translated over to "IRL"?

Lisa said...

Hey! You're from the same place as me! My parent used to come to see me on Pulaski Day, because my mom had it off.