Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Complaining About the Best Seat in the House

I spent last weekend in New York city. On my flight from Seattle to Newark, NJ, I was in the second row of the coach section of the plane. The people in front of me were at the bulkhead. The bulkhead rows have double the leg room of the other rows in coach! These are coveted seats. I usually try to score one of these seats, but was unsuccessful on this particular flight.

As the plane was just about to close the doors for take off, a man hurried on and took the aisle seat in the row in front of me. The plane was completely full as were all the overhead bins. We were literally moments from take off. This guy got on at the last possible second. The overhead bins were full, of course, and being at the bulkhead meant there was no room for his bag (since there was no seat in front of him). He was... NOT happy! The flight attendant said they had to check his bag, and he pitched a big fit.

Then, he got on his cell phone and proceeded to yell loudly (so that at least 5 rows of us fellow passengers could hear him) at someone in his office. I will leave out the profanity he used.

"Who's (blankety blank) idea was it to put me in the front row of the plane so I had to check my bag? I'm going to be late now because I have to go to the (blankety blank) baggage claim! Who did this? I'm telling you... I'm going to have this travel agent fired! This is the third time I've been in the front row of the plane so there is no room for my bags!"

He went on... and on... and on.

Many people around me were snickering. This guy was making a fool out of himself.

I know that I was tempted to say... "Hey... I'll trade you seats!" There are very few people who would give up a chance to have all that extra leg room.

I was struck by several aspects of this happening.

The main arrived late. Very late. Had he arrived earlier, his bag would have easily fit in the overhead bin. He showed up at the last second, expecting to be accommodated as though he had arrived on time.

He was complaining about getting a seat that most people would have LOVED to have. He had no appreciation for the comfort he had been provided with.

There was once a person in my life who complained about EVERYTHING that happened in their life. Everything. I used to say about this person, "If opportunity was knocking for her... she'd complain about the noise." This guy reminded me of my former acquaintance.

The man seemed to NEED for all of us around him to know about his discontent. He wanted us to 'sense' his importance (he should be entitled to special treatment, he had the power to get someone fired, etc.)

He seemed oblivious to the fact that, not only were we not impressed, we all thought he was a horses behind, or pitied him. He was embarrassing himself and didn't even know it.

I realized there were a lot of lessons in this man's sad state.

1. Our attitude is all important. Our perspective is all important. This man had a great seat and he saw it as completely inferior. The seat was great. His viewpoint was totally out of whack! He wasn't seeing clearly!

2. When we get ourselves into a 'state' where we think life owes us special treatment... we are begging for frustration and disappointment. Believing we are 'above' the human condition is a recipe for pain and suffering!

3. Other people don't need to know about our internal struggles. This man made himself look like a complete ass to those of us who witnessed his tantrum. His desire to come across as powerful and important was futile. He looked like a two year old child hurling himself on the floor to make his point. Other people view our tantrums, complaining and sense of self importance as immature and ridiculous. It wins no friends and never advances us (at least not in the long term).

Finally, what I also know is that this man is not a happy camper. It would not be easy to live inside his skin. He's deeply unhappy and troubled. I did find some compassion for whatever he's been through to land him in this particular state. Ultimately, he's responsible for his current state, but I still found some compassion for what he's been through to have him end up with that dour and nasty attitude towards life.

We are responsible for our attitude and the way we react to our life circumstances. We can learn just as much, if not more, from those around us who react in self defeating ways as we can from those who model excellence and health.

I bless this man on his journey... and I scour my own life and attitude for areas where I view things through negative, distorted lenses. Do we have a sense of entitlement? Do we try to bellow our way into control and power? Do we have a need for other people to acknowledge our power and importance? Do we complain... even when we've been given a great gift?

We might annoy others around us with this sort of behavior, but ultimately we are the ones who suffer the most.

The man on the airplane complaining about the bulkhead aisle seat. Threatening to get the travel agent fired. Getting on at the last second. Loudly complaining. Using profanity. People were laughing at him. He thought he was all important.