When was the last time you traveled in an airplane?
I was recently at a comedy show where the comedian said something really interesting.
Anytime we see a child that needs help, a child that’s injured, or a crying child, we feel the need to help. We feel sorry for the child and feel compelled to do something.
Feeling compassion for a child in need is a natural human instinct for most of us, except for in one instance—when we’re flying in an airplane.
Flying in an airplane somehow changes people’s behavior.
All of a sudden, when we’re in an airplane, a crying child is something that people complain about, criticize, and get really angry about. It’s a fascinating situation.
I mean, I get it—we’re in a small place, and it’s hard to avoid the sound without noise-canceling headphones. And for a lot of people, this becomes a very frustrating situation.
As a mother of six kids, I have had more than one experience where that crying child was my own.
When we brought our son, Noah, home from South Korea almost 16 years ago, this was me. I was the mom with a crying baby that everyone criticized and complained about.
As I stood in the galley with this poor little baby who just couldn’t stop crying, I was emotionally spent. The common thing that occurred was that people would open the curtain to see what was happening, give me that look that makes you feel like you’ve done something incredibly wrong, and then close the curtain again.
It was a very challenging situation. We had just adopted Noah, and I had no idea how to comfort him.
Thankfully, a flight attendant asked if she could try to comfort him “the Korean way.” As she did, Noah went right to sleep. This one gesture of kindness changed everything for me.
Kindness makes all the difference.
Years earlier, I remember flying with my oldest son, Jacob. He was very little at the time, and I was hyper-focused on making sure all my kids were quiet and still for the people around them.
I was really trying my best, and sometimes that’s really all you can do. But even then, kids have their own ideas.
As we sat there, Jacob wasn’t screaming—he was quiet. But he impulsively kicked the seat in front of him. Instantly I told him to stop and held his feet so he could no longer kick. He immediately stopped.
But not two seconds later, the woman sitting in the seat in front of us turned around and said, “Children have no place on a plane.”
She then started berating both Jacob and me for his behavior.
Jacob’s behavior wasn’t bad behavior. He literally kicked the seat once on an impulse and stopped when I told him to stop. But this woman screamed at him so much that he started to cry.
In response, I said to her, “Weren’t you a child once?”
“Well, of course, I was,” she said.
“Did you ever travel?” I asked.
“Well, of course, I did,” she replied.
“Well, then, I’m sure you had a similar situation. So maybe try to remember that the next time you go after a small child screaming at them.”
The woman turned around and didn’t say another word. But I was in complete shock.
Why do kindness and compassion go out the window when flying 35,000 feet in the air?
I understand that it’s not a pleasant experience when a child is crying or kicking your seat when you have no place to go.
But we need to find a better way to approach the situation without our kindness and compassion flying out the proverbial window.
Every time we approach any situation, we have a choice. We can choose to be angry and cruel to people, or we can choose something better.
I hope that we always choose something better.
Several years back, as I was flying home from attending a mission in India, there was a young family sitting up in business class.
I was not in business, I was in the back of the plane, but you could hear a child constantly crying even from all the way in the back of the airplane. The curtain was closed, so you couldn’t see what was happening, but you could definitely hear it throughout the plane.
At one point, the curtain opened, and I walked closer, not just to see what was happening but also because I had a friend sitting up there. As I got closer, I could hear so many people complaining about the screaming child.
Having been through the situation myself with my own children, I went up to the woman and asked if I could help.
The woman thanked me and then told me her story.
Learning a person’s story can completely change your perspective.
She said that she had just adopted these two sisters from India, and they were on their way home. One child was sitting there quietly, playing with some toys. The other child was the one who was screaming.
She went on to say that they wanted to keep them together as a sibling group, so they adopted both of them. But the one who was screaming was both deaf and blind. And they obviously had no way of communicating with her to explain to her what was happening.
This was one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced with a stranger in learning their story. Immediately I saw them differently and had so much compassion for them. I already had compassion for her as a mother, but this just increased that connection.
This was an incredible couple truly doing amazing and selfless things. They were certainly doing their very best.
I can only imagine how scary it was for that child and how hard it was for those parents. And everyone else’s criticism and anger just added to their already difficult situation.
No one else offered to help, and no one else took the time to see why the child was crying. They just wanted it to stop and threw all compassion and kindness out the window.
We need to be a little better about being the good in the world.
When I walked up to the woman on the plane, I prefaced it with, “I’ve been through this before. I hope I don’t sound creepy, but is there anything I can do to help?”
Her response was, “There’s nothing you can do because of the situation. But just having you see me made a difference in my day. And, understanding that everyone is angry, having you show kindness really helped me feel better.”
After I listened to her story, I did all that I could to comfort the mom as she comforted her child. I also told her that I was in the back of the airplane and that if she needed anything to come and get me—it wasn’t a big thing at all.
All I did was see her and ask her a few simple questions, “Do you need help?” “Are you okay?” “What can I do for you?”
These are the questions that change anger into understanding and frustration into kindness.
If we want to be the good in the world, we must choose to be good to others in every situation.
Rather than complaining and becoming angry, we need to understand that we can never know what anyone else is going through unless we take the time to ask.
We can never walk in their shoes because everyone’s experience is unique and different and very individual. And the only way we are going to understand where someone else has been is to ask them.
Leading with kindness and compassion will not only make your day better, but it will make everyone’s day better. It could change the complete direction of someone’s day and help them to be seen, heard, and loved.
As we move through our lives, I hope that we can think more about how to approach every situation. We need to make a commitment to ourselves that no matter what the situation, we are going to lead with kindness and compassion—even when on an airplane.
And that no matter what, we are going to make choices that will make it a great day for everyone.