“Sir, would you mind trading seats with me so my daughter and I can sit together,” I asked the stranger.
“Where is yours?” he replied.
“Two rows back by the window.”
“I want the aisle seat,” he said.
“So you won’t trade?”
“I want the aisle seat,” he repeated.
“You’re going to make a 4 year old little girl sit by herself?”
“You should have planned better.”
I had this conversation this past Thursday with a stranger on a plane.
My wife, and 2 newly adopted kids were on our way back from China. It had been a very long day, beginning 24 hours earlier in Hong Kong. We then endured a 15 hour flight with 2 small children. Once we arrived in Detroit we found out our connecting flight was cancelled, and we were set us on a collision course to meet the jerk.
I tried to convince him that he didn’t want to sit by a sleepy and frightened 4 year old girl who was thousands of miles from her home. But he wouldn’t budge. The aisle seat was way too important to him. It wasn’t worth trading one hour’s worth of his own comfort for this little girl.
When he said no, I was angry. Very angry. I wanted to shove his face into the windows seat in on the opposite side of the plane. Overhearing the conversation a young couple behind me offered to split up so we could sit together. Thanks to this kind couple, everything worked out.
The jerk got his stupid seat.
The plane took off. My daughter fell asleep with her head in my lap. And once my anger subsided, my thoughts were able to shift as I replayed the entire scenario back through my mind.
And I learned 3 important lessons from this man.
1. Little Things in Life Matter
To the jerk, the seat issue wasn’t a big deal. His quick answer made sense to him. The problem wasn’t worth his time. Certainly not worth giving up an aisle seat for. It was only a little thing.
He had a chance to make a huge impact on my life, but he missed the opportunity. He didn’t see this little thing for what it truly was.
Sometimes we write them off, these little things. We don’t write that note of encouragement. We don’t pick up the trash littering the side of the road. We don’t say “please” and “thank you.” We ignore the little things thinking they do not really matter. But they do.
What might seem small to us, could be incredibly significant to someone else. And when we pay attention to these small things, we can make a difference in someone’s life.
2. Making a Difference Must Be Intentional
I don’t believe the man boarded the plane with the intent of being a jerk. It probably happened by accident.
This situation suddenly popped up,. The decision was made quickly, and he went with what came out first. His decision came out of his heart.
These sudden scenarios in which we are given little time to think about how we respond, can give us insight to what is going on in our hearts. Do we grow angrily easily or do we respond with patience? Do we do what is best for ourselves or are we able to give to someone else who has a need? Do we sit by the window or insist on the aisle?
Living lives that are of encouragement and benefit to others is a discipline. It requires that we not just resolve to make the right decicion, but that we become the right kind of person.
If we practice being grouchy and selfish and rude, then that is all we will ever be. If we practice being kind, considerate, and loving, then when an opportunity suddenly shows up, we will be ready to make a better decision.
3. The Other Jerk
It was easy for me to be angry at this man. How could he say no? How does he sleep at night? How does he justify his decision with his conscience?
When the anger subsided, however, I was able to see a different story to the man. Maybe there were “legitimate” reasons as to why he acted like a jerk. Maybe his trip didn’t go well. Maybe he has a fear of flying. Maybe he had a bad case of diarrhea and wanted quick access to the bathroom.
Whatever his day was like, I bet his answer made sense to him. Maybe he felt he had earned the right to refuse.
Our trip to China wasn’t a vacation. We added two kids to our family while at the same time having to be away from the other four. It was stressful. My wife and I were both physically and emotionally exhausted by the end.
And there were times on the trip I acted like a jerk.
I let my tiredness get in the way of loving my wife. I let my frustrations get in the way of how I treated the airline representatives on the phone. I was even rude to the jerk who wouldn’t trade seats.
It was easy for me to see how what this other man did was wrong, but hard to see the exact same behavior in myself.
Have you ever almost gotten in a fight on an airplane? Have you ever been the jerk?
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