Social media is abuzz with the terrible story that occurred on United Airlines several days ago. Dr, Dao, a 69 year old physician on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, was physically dragged off a plane after being beaten by three police officers. The physician’s crime was refusing to comply with a United Airlines dictate that he deplane simply because they overbooked the flight.
The doctor was not singled out for bad behavior. He was picked randomly by a computer after none of the passengers volunteered to be bumped from the flight in exchange for a voucher. He refused to deplane because he had patients to see early the next morning, and was hustled off the plane against his will.
Our world is going off the rails. There is a huge problem with police brutality, but I won’t even go there. I am dwelling on something much more fundamental. Something of which many of us are guilty. Our parents raised us to show respect. We were taught to rise when our elders entered. Not to grab the first portion served to the table, but to allow our elders to choose first. We were taught to rise when someone older needs a seat. We were taught to check with others before taking the last piece.
If we were taught to show respect, why do so few people show respect anymore? The problem in this story goes all the way around. Surely the police should show respect for the people they encounter, especially the elderly. Surely United should show respect for their passengers, especially those who have properly booked and paid. But there is one more piece and many are not going to like it because our generation has trained us to remand more respect than we show. The last failure to show respect in this story, belongs to the passengers.
Surely there were many passengers who had pressing reasons to remain on the flight when United begged them to accept a later flight and a voucher. But does anyone believe that from a planeload of people there was not a single person, who could have taken a later flight to help United place their standby team on this plane and avoid a delay of flights across their entire system?
Think about how many people were delayed throughout the country because this plane took two extra hours to take off. I know many readers will chafe at these words because they will rightly blame United for this. I don’t dispute that. United is surely at fault, but the passengers failed to show respect. Did every single passenger on that plane honestly conclude that their needs were so pressing as to justify delaying all the passengers affected across the system? Surely every passenger had a good reason to reach their destination as soon as possible, but to show respect means to balance your needs against those of others and to show respect if another’s’ need is greater than yours.
Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin once hosted the famed Rebbe of Zanz. The holy Ruzhiner would eat large meals in honor of Shabbat whereas the Zanzer would eat meager meals. When the Zanzer visited, the Ruzer are very little. The Zanzer encouraged him to eat lavishly as was his custom, but the Ruzhiner responded with an analogy.
When Rosh Chodesh, the first of the Hebrew month, falls on Shabbat, we read a different prayer for the Musaf, the second Amidah of the day. In other words, Shabbat gives up its Musaf. When Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of a festival, fall on Shabbat, we read a different Musaf and a different Torah portion. This means that Shabbat gives up its Musaf and its Torah portion. When a festival falls on Shabbat, all the Amidah prayers of the day are different as well as the Torah portion. In other words, for such a special guest, Shabbat gives up all its prayers and its Torah reading. When Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, Shabbat even gives up its meal.
When you come to my home for Shabbat, concluded the Ruzhiner, I give up my meal in your honor.
This Shabbat will fall mid festival and Shabbat will give up its Torah reading and it’s Musaf Amidah. We need to learn a lesson from this: To show respect means to give something away that belongs to us by rights. I don’t fault Dr. Dao for staying on the flight because he had no way of knowing what illness his patients might bring to him the next day and he had to make himself available. Others, who had similarly pressing reasons to remain on the flight, are similarly justified. But what of those who were simply tired and disinterested? What of those who remained on their seat for selfish convenience? Worse, what of those who remained seated while another man was beaten and dragged off the plane?
Before anyone complains that I have no right to write this way, let me hasten to assure you that you are right. I have no way of knowing whether anyone on that plane sat by for selfish reason and therefore have no right to condemn anyone. Why then did I bring up this issue?
Because I believe that everything that happens in life is meant to serve as a lesson. The question that we ought to take from this story (in addition to the question of why United and the officers behaved so atrociously) is not why the passengers did what they did, but what would we do?
Do we offer our seat when an elderly person boards a crowded train? Do we come to the door personally even when we are busy and someone else answered the doorbell, when our in-laws arrive for a visit? Do we take the last apple in the fruit-store-bin, when another customer was reaching for it? When our parents come over for dinner, do they sit at the head of the table? When we offer someone a ride in our car, do we invite them to take the front passenger seat while we sit in the back?
I imagine we were all raised with these values, but with time we allow ourselves to forget them. We each need reminders to show more respect.
I sincerely hope United learns its lesson. I sincerely hope these police officers have learned their lessons and will pass them on to their fellow officers. Most, it is my hope that we will all walk away from this story with increased resolve to show respect. To search for and find those areas in which respect is lacking and resolve to improve. To show more respect.
I conclude by pointing out that even if we are not prepared to show respect for altruistic reason, we can show respect for selfish reason. If our children see us respecting our parents, chances are better that they will respect us. If they see us going out of our way for the elderly and the needy, chances are they will be less selfish and more willing to go out of their way. If we won’t show respect for the sake of the elderly, let’s show it for the sake of our children. After all, what don’t parents do for their children?
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