Monday, November 06, 2006

A trip to Houston

Airplane flights are one of those eerily unpredictable things in life. I got to the airport two hourse before my scheduled flight time, what with the security and the lines and such. And the weather in Omaha was beautiful. Sadly, the weather in Houston at that point was not so much beautiful as, say, downpourish. Like major thunderstorms of such severity that they grounded most of their flights. I ended up leaving about three hours later than I expected.

So I was sitting there with all these other travellers, sharing various grumblings about the delay, about connecting flights, about whether luggage would make it on said connecting flights. And there were the various attempts to get information, schedule different connecting flights, etc. The airline employee was this young guy, probably in his 20s, and you could just see his stress level rise over the course of the three hours.

I couldn't help but feel for the guy. This whole situation was entirely out of his control. Stressed, impatient clients were on his back, growing steadly more irritable with every new flight delay. Towards the end, he almost seemed at the end of his rope.

As I contemplated this, my perspective on the situation changed. It didn't matter so much that I might miss some of my favorite TV shows tonight, or that I might not get a dinner meal until later than I would like. Being "forced" to sit there with an incredibly dense book on Cognition and Social Context (I think that was the title) no longer seemed so much like a decade in purgatory.

As I boarded the plane, I turned to him and said simply "thank you for being so patient with us." I think my response bewildered him, although he said "oh yeah, no problem." You could see in his face that it wasn't what he was expecting.

I hope that my comment helped decrease his stress. But what really struck my attention was how this newfound empathy for him also decreased my own stress level. Something about gettint outside of my narrow view of these events, of this newfound compassion for him, brought a sense of peace.

May we all have more such experiences of peace. I daresay the world would be better for it.


Magdalene6127 said...

Steve, like so many of your posts, this one caused me to step back to consider my own behavior in situations like this. Thank you for your thoughtful and spirit-filled blog.

Blessings, Mags

more cows than people said...

Empathy decreasing stress... how thought provoking. Yes, I suppose it can. I spent too much time in airports the last few years (last year in particular) and I have some grace-filled empathy stories to share and some less than lovely impatience stories to share "You're not hearing me. I will be getting home tonight!"

It was nice traveling with my husband on a few occasions this summer. We could take turns fielding the frustrations. I, the more experienced traveler could be assertive when necessary. He, the one with unlimited reserves of patience (it seems so often) brought generosity and grace when I was ready to snap.

Thanks, as ever.

steve westby said...

mags and more cows,

Thank you for your kind comments. As I reflected on this topic a little further, I found myself thinking about how empathy (or perhaps the shift in perspective that makes empathy possible) really can reduce stress.

And yet there are also those who struggle with constantly putting their needs aside to please others. In that sense, doing so might not always be helpful.

The difference, it seems to me, is one of motivation. Empathy in its truest form is a gift, a hopefully selfless act. Constantly giving-in to what others wish is more an act of fear, a fear of abandonment, rejection, or conflict.

Anyway, thanks again for your kind words.