Last Wednesday, I was on a flight from Los Angeles, California to Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s pretty long for a domestic flight, from one coast to another. I boarded the plane and took my aisle seat in the coach section of the plane. Passengers kept walking past me through the aisle and I expected at some point that I would be standing up to let two people sit in the empty seats to my right. And then the announcement that we were about to take off occurred. How lucky! I was going to get an entire row of the airplane to myself.
Within about 5 minutes, a man in the row behind me asks, “Is anyone sitting there?” I replied, “I don’t know” because 1) sometimes the doors are re-opened for someone boarding the plane late and 2) I didn’t want to say, “no” because HE ALREADY HAD A SEAT! WHAT ABOUT MY ROW TO MYSELF?
He let about two seconds go by after my “I don’t know” to say, “I’m sitting there.”
I got up and let him in. He took the window seat.
Meanwhile the thoughts in my head, “WHAT THE HELL, MAN? HOW RUDE! YOU DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME IF IT WAS OKAY!”
But I kept my thoughts in my head. Even though he made me get up while I was trying to write a post on my computer, so that he could use the bathroom. HOW ANNOYING!
Then it happened. A woman walked up to the aisle, looked at the middle seat and said, “That’s my husband.” Apparently, this was her manner of communicating her claim to the seat beside him. I said, “You mean, you want to switch seats with me?” She said, “No, you don’t want my seat. It’s a middle seat.” She must not have been seated in the same row as her husband. It was a little confusing. In any event, I climbed out of my seat so that she could take the seat between her husband and me.
Meanwhile the thoughts in my head, “WHAT THE HELL, LADY? HOW RUDE! JUST LIKE YOUR HUSBAND, YOU DIDN’T ASK ME IF IT WAS OKAY TO SIT IN MY ROW!”
My row. My seats. Mine. You people are inconsiderate and have bad boundaries.
I observed my annoyance. I paid for one seat and since I used frequent flier miles, I think the total cost of this leg of the trip was about $5. I had fully expected to sit next to two other passengers when I initially sat down. But once it was announced that the plane was fully boarded, it took me all of five minutes to lay claim to an entire row on an airplane that didn’t belong to me. In fact, I was really just renting the seat that I was in.
In those few minutes, I had constructed a small web of expectation and entitlement, which gave way to irritation. The truth is, most people would think that the way this married couple spoke to me was a bit lacking in the finer shades of communication that translate as politeness. “I’m sorry, but I was wondering, would you mind my sitting in that empty seat?”
We might even think that it really would not have been so hard for either the wife or the husband to use a few extra words to acknowledge the inconvenience they were causing. What I am wondering though is why it wasn’t easier for me to initially think to myself, “It’s fair for people to move to another seat and it’s nice that this middle aged married couple wants to sit together on a long flight.”
Instead, my initial thoughts were that something that was mine was being taken from me. And this thought made me curious. I don’t think of myself as being someone who has difficulty with entitlement. I also think of myself as being helpful and generous. But like a preschool aged child who says, “mine!” when she sees someone else’s fingers grabbing for a marker, which she is not using, but is in a favorite color, I had taken ownership of seats I wasn’t using.
Children tend to say, “not fair!” when something they don’t like happens. Even if they’ve had more of their fair share of something and are asked to even things out. “Mine! Not fair!”
We don’t often notice when we have more than our fair share of something and when we do, it is usually not distressing.
I am not a little kid. I know how to take turns on the slide and share my markers. Sometimes I intentionally give myself less than my fair share of something. This has me thinking, though. It has me thinking about some of my pet peaves at home. Those tiny irritations that can accumulate into significant masses of stress. I was very excited to see my family last night after being away for five days. As soon as I walked through the door, I saw chores that needed to be done, just a few, but nonetheless things that had not gotten done while I was gone. My automatic thought was, “not fair”. But then I started commenting on the positives. My husband had gotten to the airport early because he was excited to see me. “John, thank you so much for picking me up.” “John, thank you for taking care of our daughter so I could have time away on my own.”
I started to feel calmer. I still got annoyed with some other things but I was able to get myself back on a positive plane more quickly than in the past.
Appreciation, the buffer against “mine!”, “not fair!”, and “gimme!”.