Hissy Fit Folk Hero?

Whither Embarrassment?

I, like many others, giggled when I first heard about the antics of a Jetblue flight attendant.  As the story goes, Steven Slater was treated rudely by some passengers who did not listen to instructions to sit down and was accidentally hit in the head with a bag.  But what the understandably frustrated flight attendant did next has landed him in some legal hot water and has apparently made him a bit of a folk hero.

As you have probably heard, Mr. Slater allegedly took to the plane’s microphone and hurled a number of expletives (apparently including the f-bomb) at the unruly passengers, grabbed some beers, popped the escape hatch, and slid down the emergency slide.

I fly extensively for my employment so I can certainly understand Mr. Slater’s frustration at rude and unruly passengers for I share it.  However, I object to Mr. Slater’s elevation to folk hero for his antics, a claim I heard in several news reports yesterday.  There is nothing heroic about what Mr. Slater did and I wonder about one key missing element to the story.

Beyond breaking the law with his grand exit, Mr. Slater’s behavior might have been worse than what triggered it.  I guarantee that there are many professionals who day in and day out must deal with irate and rude customers, with significantly less enforcement ability than a flight attendant, who never act in such a way.

Apparently our crosses are not to be borne anymore, they are to be swung wildly in order to take out as many innocent bystanders as possible.

A quick story.  About a year ago I was driving home from Mass with my wife and five children in the car.  My neighborhood is right next to a Catholic shrine and as I approached there were a large number of motorcycles exiting the shrine during bike week.  There was a man and a woman, bikers themselves, in the street holding up traffic to allow the motorcycles to exit safely.  So I came to a stop.  I waited there for over five minutes as motorcycle after motorcycle exited the shrine.  At no point did the self-appointed traffic controllers consider giving me the opportunity to proceed.

After a few more minutes the flow of motorcycles came to an end and yet the pair remained in the street holding up my car and at least five other cars that had accumulated behind us.  I looked up the driveway of the shrine and saw nobody coming.  So I inched my way up to the people blocking traffic and rolled my window down so I could let them know that I wished to proceed.

My slow encroachment, however, was viewed by the pair in leather as an unacceptable breach of their self-appointed authority.  As I approached I smiled and leaned my head out the window just to let them know I would pass and was greeted with a string of expletives.

I was shocked.  There were clearly no other motorcycles in sight and I approached at 5 mph.  Where did these people get off?  I tried to speak with the pair but they continued to scream and curse at me.  Raising my voice slightly I argued that I had waited patiently as the bikers exited but there were no more bikers and they should let us pass.  In response to my explanation the woman approached the side of the car and stopped three feet from me.  She looked at my family in the car, raised her arms, and flipped us all the double bird.

I was shocked, frustrated, and angry.  I don’t think that anyone would argue that the bikers were anything other than rude to me and my family.  But it is not their rude behavior that I remember most about that day.  It was mine.

At that moment I let my temper flare and I cursed back at them and drove off in a huff.  I did not bear my cross.  I swung it just as wildly as Mr. Slater.  But worse, my children heard me curse and lose my temper.

But, moments after my outburst, my thoughts began to change.  Was I now a folk hero for standing up against the rudeness and vulgarity of the biker community?  No.  I was a jerk who lost his temper and cursed in front of his children.  I was terrible example of a Christian and I was embarrassed.

Embarrassment.  That is what is missing in this whole story.  I think I can understand Mr. Slater’s frustration with the rude passengers and I can also understand that everybody loses their temper some time.  I understand all that.

What I don’t understand is why he is not embarrassed and why we are not embarrassed for him?

I guess as a culture we just don’t do embarrassment anymore.