Conscious Comments

I’ve been flying a lot lately for speaking gigs, so the inside of a plane sometimes feels like a second home. I appreciate the homey feeling but, as I learned from one recent interaction, I had perhaps become a bit too comfortable…
On this particular day I was flying on a smaller plane, the kind that has only two seats per row. I took the window seat and another man sat next to me, in the aisle row. Before I sat down I’d folded my jacket and placed it in the overhead bin.
The plane continued to load. Passengers came down the aisle in single file, looking for the seats they’d been assigned to occupy for the next few hours. One of them, a young lady wheeling a carry-on, stopped in front of my seat, looked up at the bin and, seeing my jacket, asked if it belonged to anyone.
Now, if you know me at all, then you know I love to joke. I often have a one-line response that I hope can make those around me laugh. Well, on this day, my one-liner consisted of, “Why? Do you want to press it?”
I’m not kidding when I say I would’ve joked that way with anyone, man or woman, but this young lady looked at me like she wanted to kill me. It was clear that she was really upset by my comment.
When I saw her response, I instantly apologized, saying, “Sorry, I was just joking. Of course you can have the spot.” Within seconds, she’d moved my jacket and put her case in its place.
Soon afterwards, I looked at the man next to me and raised my eyebrows. He shrugged and said, “I thought it was funny too.”
I thought that maybe this woman was just having a bad day. Maybe she’d gotten to the airport late and was harried because of it. Perhaps she’d just realized that she’d forgotten to pack something super-important.
After thinking about it some more, I realized that I didn’t know this woman from Eve. I didn’t know what she’d been through, what experiences she’d had, or what kinds of joking around weren’t funny to her at all.
That experience reminded me of why it’s so important to be sensitive to the people around me. When I’m conscious of the things I say to people whom I don’t really know, I can make sure I respect their feelings instead of inadvertently insulting them, as I feared I’d done that day.
Sometimes it’s easy to just “be ourselves” without thinking about the people around us, especially in an environment where we’ve grown comfortable. Perhaps even complacent. It’s easy to do things that, although no harm is intended, can be taken in a different way.
Keeping this in mind as we’re out and about, mingling with people we don’t know, can help us create more positive interactions. Ones where we both walk away happier for the encounter – where the exchange leaves both people feeling valued because, although we were comfortable, we were conscious as well.

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