As an airline pilot, I travel not only on airplanes, but on busses, vans, and taxis. These drivers do the same job I do. Unfortunately, they get little pay, and less respect. Passengers often berate these folks. They “forget” to tip and seldom make eye contact.
There are many “nonentities” in our society; maids, clerks, janitors, and waitresses. These people make things happen yet they are marginalized and treated as a commodity. I am guilty, too. Too often I raise my voice to an agent or criticize a ramper. The disrespect we receive from others seldom makes us reflect on the plight of those we mistreat.
I recently had a short overnight in Philadelphia. I was grumpy when we pulled into the gate after a day of delays and bad weather. I was grumpier later, waiting an hour for the hotel van. After a restless night filled with construction noises I arrived in the lobby in the morning ready to take out my frustration on anyone. The van driver met my criteria. He did not speak, only stood by the van waiting. I concluded that his silence was a form of disrespect. When he did speak, an innocent question about our schedule, I laid into him. I replied sarcastically that my crew would be more timely than the hotel van. He resumed his silence, hurt, but not surprised. It was his resignation that pricked my conscience. He saw this every day. He was acclimated to hostility. Road rage, traffic, demanding passengers, now an arrogant pilot; nothing new.
The van ride was awkward. No one spoke. I began to see that the man’s silence was not disrespect, but defense. He had also had a “bad day.” His bad day was me. I had been an agent of his misery.
I decided to apologize. I was nervous as we unloaded. The driver handed out the suitcases and did not stick his hand out for an tip. When he handed me mine I steeled myself for his scorn. There was none. He simply turned and walked away. “Sir,” I stammered. He stopped and steeled himself for more abuse. “Sir, I want to apologize.” Now he was startled. He literally stumbled backward. I continued, “I was rude and disrespectful to you at the hotel, and you did not deserve it. I was wrong. I‘m sorry.” Amazed, he was silent for a moment. “Forget about it,” he said, smiling “it was nothing.” It was as if my small gesture had lifted a weight. Somehow my “sorry” changed the trajectory of his day. It changed mine even more. Though we encountered delays that day, too, I felt lighter and less angry. Somehow my “sorry” was a gift to me. His “forget about it” was a gift to him. What could have become a feud became a friendship. Saying “Sorry” cost me nothing and gained me a friend.
We humans make a lot of mistakes. What I discovered is that sometimes a mistake is an opportunity, an opportunity to say “Sorry.”
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