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JetBlue Anger

This past week a JetBlue flight attendant

http://abcnews.go.com/US/steven-slater-jetblue-flight-attendant-bail-eme...

erupted in an angry tirade over the PA after a disputatious passenger hit him in the head over an overhead baggage storage dispute. He than grabbed a beer from the beverage cart, yanked an emergency cord, and slid to safety (with his own two pieces of carry-on luggage) via the plane's emergency chute. He booked it to the employee parking lot, made it home to his place on Long Island, and sat tight til the cops came, in droves.

Steven Slater, the flight attendant, is being hailed as

1) a bit of a working class folk hero 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_upshot/20100810/bs_yblog_upshot/rogue-jetb...

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/10/2010-08-10_the_words_hear...

2) a complete wack job by others

3) a potentially lucrative source of income.

That Steven Slater was later arrested at home, in bed with his boyfriend after his wild escape, adds a salacious little cherry on the top of this made-for-media spectacle.

What's a Buddhist take on this? My husband, a non-Buddhist, asked me, curiously. He knows about the Tibetan Buddhist psychological understanding of anger as the confused form of clear seeing -- in any anger, there is a crystal clear quality of seeing the truth about something, even if only a tiny bit. What was the truth Slater saw? If he had been a meditator, would he have reacted differently?

Well, I could only report this practioner's take. First, I found it easy to have some compassion for the guy. There is some clarity in telling an obnoxious passenger to stop being obnoxious, , especially after being hit on the head by her. Truth is, many folks treat service personnel quite horribly, and letting them go ahead with that behavior w/o any feedback is not always service. But there are ways to bring more compassion and awareness to that "feedback" process. (As my mom said, say it, but say it politely.) Maybe notsa much clarity in responding with a victorious and cinematic swoop by the bev cart and whoosh down the chute. Obviously he's suffering the suffering of a hard job and lots of stress. He could have emotional causes and conditions, too, that generated his response.

I thought, "Well, there are lots of traditions and lots of techniques out there for anger management. Had he been a Buddhist meditation practitioner, maybe he could have practiced one of the six paramitas, patience, kshanti, and refrained from anger. He could have remembered mindful speech and refrained from broadcasting a stream of profanity over the public address system. He could have practiced the four immeasurables and wished that all beings be happy and have the causes of happiness, including that obnoxious passenger." (for links to explanations of these terms, see below.)

And who is to smugly say that any of that is easy, or would have worked for him? Who is to say I wouldn't have done something a little bit similar? It's so easy for me to think, "Ah what a gift that I can have some space around my reactions, that I can pause instead of lashing out" and not have any freakin' clue what it would be like to be that particular person in that particular situation.

Frankly, I felt a bit of a vicarious thrill when I heard the story. "Take this job and shove it" is deeply engrained in many Americans' minds, and mine is one of them. I know that it's a conditioned response, created by countless sources in our culture. I know that it is not coming from a particularly realized viewpoint. But I recognized that little thrill in my chest at the thought of that Bonnie & Clyde, Thelma & Louise, moment of snap and utter crazy freedom. And let it go.

What about you? How did you feel, as a practitioner, when you heard the story?

links:

paramitas:

http://www.dharmadownload.net/pages/english/Natsok/0010_Teaching_English...

mindful speech:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_42.html

four immeasurables:

http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_42.html

 

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Comments

I-Heart-Slater

Wasn't Slater just revealing the truth in his situaton (rather than our arm-chair version projecting onto it?)  Rather than trying to repress emotion (and  the guy WAS repressing his anger to behave compassionately for nearly 20 years prior to this moment) he did exactly what was right for him in that moment. 

I mean, the incredible sense of humor he displayed alone is worthy of my admiration. Grabbing a beer, using the (generally useless) "Emergency Escape" for probably the only time it will ever actually be used for an actual emergency escape, managing to get away and make it home despite our so-called "heightened national security" then topping it all off with some post escapade slap-and-tickle makes him just plane awesome-tastic.  The bigger question for me is, why aren't we writing about the a-hole who hit him on the head and didn't aplogigze? Why aren't we writing about the people who probably saw that happen and ignored and it didn't ask the lady to apologize?

I don't know that I would have done the same, but if I had, and happen to have a meditaiton practice, is that ok with ya'll? Cuz I don't think I read anywhere where Buddhists have to be really quiet and behave as others expect them to - and I think we all know( hopefully) that sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for someone who hits you on the head and doesn't say I'm sorry is to tell them to "Fuck the fuck off" loud enough for everyone to hear - compassion comes in many flavors and I don't have a yardstick by which to judge skillful means.

and I'm looking and looking and I can't find anything in this situation that lacks compassion.  Nor anything indicating that he endangered anyone. Except perhaps some corporate executives, by inspiring other people to think about getting out of situations they cannot stand and that cause them dis-satisfaction, though hopefully without need for such spectacle.

remember when JetBlue employees used to tell jokes and sing on the planes? those were the dayz.

public servant

I deal with the public a lot. some of them are jerks. some of them are lovely. I was legendary for my rude way of dealing with rude people, but I've changed since I became a meditator. now when someone is aggressive, I try to focus on what they want or are trying to accomplish, which seems to calm them down, rather than rising (or sinking) to the level of their behavior. sometimes I'll flat out say, "well, what are looking for here? what do you want me to do?" and then I can see if there's a way to achieve that. however, I haven't been called names like that, and on a bad day ... nah, I still don't think I'd do it over the p.a. system.

To be honest...

I kinda just thought it was so ridiculous, so excessive in its performance (I mean, the jumping out to the tarmac on the slide just is absurdity + taking some beers along?!? what!?!?) that I hope that everyone involved sees it as an instance of trying to exert authority and create spectacle in a situation where probably everyone involved felt powerless to some degree. That it was so over-the-top suggests to me that seeking attention seems to be one of the most instinctive and base methods the modern personality employs when faced with a situation where the ego feels threatened and desperately wants to exert itself without engaging in outright violence.

totally

"That it was so over-the-top suggests to me that seeking attention seems to be one of the most instinctive and base methods the modern personality employs when faced with a situation where the ego feels threatened and desperately wants to exert itself without engaging in outright violence."

No kidding!

the folk hero thing

It's funny how big the "folk hero" reaction seems to be. I'm fascinated by the fact that an angry, potentially dangerous response is being celebrated. It does seem like he had a lot of options beyond what he did. But I've done plenty of things in my life that I've regretted! Who hasn't? Rarely do we get national press when we flip out. I, for one, am happy about that. I'd hate to see the CNN coverage of "Man Yells at Inanimate Object for Hurting His Toe; Psychologists Investigating."

I have tremendous compassion for him - I have been on a lot of planes and can't imagine the stress of being a flight attendant. Long hours, low low pay, high demands. It's far from being a "waitress in the sky" (to quote the old Replacements song) - you are responsible for the safety of many other human beings. Ultimately I would love to see people hear about his story and consider being nicer to flight attendants, not to mention everyone else they encounter. I would also love to see a story about the many amazing and compassionate flight attendants I've seen over the years, dealing with really difficult situations.

well...

Hard to be skillful if you are hitting the bottle. I think the poor guy just had a very public relapse. I hope he gets some help.

Thank you for this blog post.

Thank you for this blog post. I, too, felt a hint of solidarity with Steven Slater. It seems that even when my practice teaches me to create space around my emotions so that I can allow the truth to penetrate at home, it's still much harder to do at work. So much more is out of my control there, and I happen to be going through a particularly poignant _opportunity for growth_ (I have to laugh at myself as I say that, because a little part of me really wants to say that I'm having to deal with a gossip and a bully who has more power than he knows how to skilfully handle. But I know the real issue is how I handle this situation inside of myself, and he is not those things; those are his behaviors; not his true self.). But I'm going down the rabbit hole, here. My point is, it's so easy to want to stick it to the man, or to teach rude people a lesson, or tell the whole world to go f* themselves. It's EASY. Everybody's doing it. And, let's be honest, at least in this case, what Steven did is funny exactly because he acted out the most epic, movie-scale fantasy of probably the most (momentarily) satisfying way to do just that.

Still, I can't help but hope for him that even after the made-for-TV-movie offers stop coming in, he'll have peace and his arguably unskillful means will offer him opportunities to help himself and others.

A lost opportunity and a gained one

When I heard of this my first thought was "what a dick." he didn't have to handle it the way he chose to handle it. I was mystified when I heard about the folk hero stuff. What hero curses at women over loud speakers, risks the safety of everyone on an airplane, betrays their trust, and does so all in the name of ego - "I just couldn't take it anymore."

Seemed a missed opportunity for compassion then realized that it's my missed opportunity for compassion and my relationship to the news story changed.

Good lessons all around. Thanks for the post Ellen.

action and reaction

The action of Steven Slater looks like skillful means compared to the story of anger in Metta to My Town.

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