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Of all our emotions, anger is probably the one that can screw us the hardest. Over the course of history, very few things have gotten us in more trouble than things done in the heat of anger. Think about major blunders, either from politicians, celebrities, or even regular people like you and me… How many times have we said “I _____ (spoke/acted/tweeted/posted) in anger, and I regret my actions.” On occasion, that’s followed up with “I’ll be entering a treatment facility immediately following this press conference,” but that’s neither here nor there.
I had an experience on my flight today that made me realize that it’s not what happens to us, but much more often than not, how we handle it that determines our fate, and whether or not the outcome winds up in our favor.
I boarded flight 33 from Narita to LAX and took my seat. The lovely flight attendant came over and offered me water. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she put the glass down on my armrest. I was in the process of putting my phone down to pick up my water when I heard what can only be described as a panicked “Aaaaaahhhhh!” from the flight attendant, and then I felt something hit my stomach. It was an empty cup. I couldn’t understand why an empty cup would hit my stomach – Why would the flight attendant be giving out empty cups? (This is how my very strange brain works.) That’s when I felt it, and had my answer: Champagne had been in that empty cup, and it was now all over me.
Understand, I’m not adding “all over me” for dramatic effect. Best I can figure out, someone walking behind the flight attendant had bumped her forward, and the momentum fired the glass in her tray straight forward – right onto me. Champagne went from about my shoulder blade, straight down and across, covering the majority of my shirt, and down onto my legs until about an inch above my knee. My left side was the worst hit, but trust me – It got everywhere.
Time stopped, not only for me, but the person sitting next to me, and most definitely the poor flight attendant. Her hand shot up to her mouth, and the color drained from her face. There was a deathly silence that hung in the air over seat 2D.
“Wow.” Was all I could say to break the silence. The flight attendant jumped up and could only say “I’m so sorry, oh my God, I’m so sorry, I’m just so sorry,” as she ran to the front and came back with napkins, which is kind of like giving a band-aid to someone just gored by a bull…
By this point, the lead flight attendant had come running over, and every passenger in the cabin was watching to see how this would play out. I had two options. I could get mad, or I could let it go. That’s all I really had, when you think about it. Almost every time, that’s all we ever have.
I smiled at the now petrified flight attendant and her boss, and simply said “You know, as luck would have it, I have a suitcase with me, and it has dry clothes in it!” You could WATCH the tension start to leave the cabin.
A small (or large) outburst from a man now soaked in Champagne would not have been unheard of, I suppose. But to what end? What good would have come out of it? Not only that, but I had to be with all these people for the next ten hours. There was simply no point in getting angry. I grabbed my suitcase while another flight attendant scrubbed down my seat, and changed into another outfit. I came out, and sat back down. It seemed that the entire flight crew came over to apologize, and I just kept repeating “don’t even sweat it. Stuff happens.”
Look, there are times where getting mad is exactly what you’re supposed to do. I don’t like being taken advantage of, and as someone who’s written a book on why it’s more profitable to be nice, I’ve occasionally found myself in situations where people confuse my niceness with weakness. This obviously can not stand, and I don’t let it. But as we go through life, we realize that intentional situations aren’t the norm.
So from my experience on UA33, here’s a brief checklist to commit to memory and put into play the next time you have a chance to get pissed off. Perhaps it’ll help us diffuse a situation to our favor, instead of making it worse.
Take a deep breath. Ask yourself if there’s truly any benefit to blowing up. Who will it help? Will it make you look good? Will people see your point of view more clearly if you’re angry or if you’re calm? Almost always, calmness prevails.
Take another deep breath: It probably wasn’t intentional. People who do things to deliberately anger you should be dealt with, no doubt. But those situations are rare. The Champagne incident above? I doubt it was intentional. Once you realize that, you realize that anger probably isn’t necessary.
You’re not the only one having a little bit of a day. I was covered in Champagne, but I can tell you that my flight attendant was covered in something much worse: Fear – What would I do, how would I react, would she be reported, would she get docked, etc. Letting it go not only lowered my blood pressure, but I’m sure hers as well.
Letting things go isn’t what people expect. We live in quick-to-anger society. Don’t believe me? Cut someone off on your commute to work tomorrow and see what happens. We expect to always have to be on our guard, and have our fists up ready to defend. If we focus on doing the opposite, not only does it make our personal universe a nicer place, but it spreads out into other people’s universes – “Wow, he was really decent about that,” puts everyone else in a better mood. That’s always beneficial to any situation.
You’re planting the seeds for a happier tomorrow. Chances are, whatever happened to you happened somewhere that you’re going to be again – a supermarket, a gym, etc. The amount of goodwill you can generate by simply letting something roll off your back can be substantial – And that’ll come back to you – In other words, there’s a direct benefit to you in not getting angry. It could be monetary, or result in an “experiential” benefit – “Sir, here’s a pass to avoid the line next time, we’re really sorry.”
Finally, not getting angry means you now have a “special relationship.” I guarantee you, if I ever happen to be on this flight attendant’s plane again, she’s going to remember me. But she won’t remember me as the guy who yelled and screamed, but rather, as the guy who was cool about her mistake. That’s the kind of memory you most definitely want to make.
Yo! I ain’t even mad, bro! What do you do to diffuse anger? Tell us below so that we can all get the benefit of your tips and tricks, as well! And as always, thanks for reading!