Picture it – it’s 2010 and society has devolved to the point that a sense of entitlement is an American citizen’s most staunchly defended birthright.
This becomes an issue when two people encounter each other in a service-type situation. One person plays the role of the customer and the other is the service professional.
Calamity ensues when the service professional tells the customer that she can not do what she wants to do in that very moment. She feels that she is entitled to instant gratification of her every whim, no matter what the damn rules say. She becomes rude and violent and the service professional, who is entitled to have his authority recognized and respected, lashes out and makes a scene.
Last week Steven Slater, a flight attendant for Jet Blue, got into big trouble when he cursed out a passenger over the intercom, deployed the emergency slide, stole two beers and slid away to temporary freedom after the passenger attempted to remove her baggage from the overhead bin before the plane had come to a stop at the gate.
I don’t condone what Mr. Slater did because he put lives at risk by deploying the emergency slide on the ground where baggage handlers and mechanics could have been hit and killed by it. He also forgot to maintain his dignity and professional restraint.
I can, however, understand what might drive someone in a situation like that to take such drastic measures. He was, by all accounts, dealing with an angry and belligerent passenger. When he told her that what she was doing was unsafe, as was his job requirement, she told him to f*** off and struck him on the head with the door of the overhead bin. If she was two that would be called a tantrum. At middle age, well, that’s still a tantrum, which is really just a lack of self control.
Once upon a time I worked as a waiter in the dining establishments of olde, when manners had not yet waned to the point of regular conflict. Sure, there were belligerent guests, cranky curmudgeons and people with so many diet restrictions they really should have just been attached to a feeding tube. All of these people could and did make crazy demands, yell at me for things beyond my control, treat me like I was a slave and not a person, insult me, hit on me, tip me poorly for good service and touch me inappropriately. Of course all of that irritated me and we servers would complain about and mock the customers from the safety of the kitchen. But we also knew that bad customers came with the job, that it was up to us to be the bigger people, to behave like adults when other adults refused to because our livelihood depended on it. Otherwise we could become office drones like these big babies and save up our frustrations to dump on people who had to take it from us, and take it with a smile. Sure, they know better, but they don’t care. They’re entitled to their feelings, after all.
I can completely understand that fed up feeling that Steven Slater must have had on that flight and I know for a fact I’ve wanted to tell customers a thing or two about a thing or two on many occasions in my former career in the service industry, but I didn’t because I took pride in being able to control myself and maintain my dignity.
Someone has to maintain a modicum of respectable behavior or it really will be the death of civility.
All, I’m saying, Steven Slater, is remember the rule of karma. What goes around comes around. And, truly, people who can’t behave like adults, who wrap themselves in their sense of entitlement like a living shroud, are likely cranky in the first place from the coming around of the last bad thing they did.
When we think about it that way, realizing that the tantrum thrower’s problems are their problems and not ours then the behavior won’t bother as much anymore. And when we take away their power to bother us as much we’ll deflate some of their anger and they’ll be slightly smaller jerks. But still jerks, to be sure. At least we won’t also be jerks.