Sure enough, some dude filled our row's vacancy. Didn't matter how much in my mind I was yelling "no-vacancy," I could tell he was eying the seat as soon as he took the corner into the aisle.
He was shorter than me and as bald as various New Life pastors. Different than these mentioned - the guy had huge arms. He was obviously a gym rat, and apparently wore the tighter polo shirt to prove it (I think there's a FourSquare badge for guys like that).
He was one of the last ones to board, so the plane engine was already revved up. The moment Muscles sat down he crossed his arms all flexed out in front of his chest, puffed out wide.
And he stayed like that.
For the entire take off.
Until we were up in the air.
I'm thinking, as I'm pushed up against the window, "Really? Come on dude." It's going to be two hours of this? I'm literally waiting for him to point and ask the stewardess which way to the restroom.
Once we leveled off and they started taking beverage orders, the guy relaxed and sat with his arms in his lap. I relaxed from being scrunched up against the window. It was super early, there wasn't much talking going on amongst anyone. Muscles played on his phone and I read. At one point I got my Mac out to check something for school. Muscles asked me if I knew how to get on to the WiFi. It was a short conversation, but he was nice.
They came over the intercom that we were beginning our descent and that we should expect some turbulence on the way down. I put my laptop away, closed up my tray, and commenced reading.
Mr. Muscles resumed his obnoxiously flexed take off posture. Ugh.
That's when I realized it - he was freaked out. I was sitting next to B.A. from the A-Team. He was freaked out at the take-off and freaked out about landing. The big tough guy was scared.
And that's when I realized something else: the big tough guy was sitting next to the big insensitive jerk. Me.
My first reaction, which was based only off of my subjective observation and not based on direct interaction with him, was that he was a muscle induced pig head. But apparently, the pig head was me (without the muscles). The inconvenience he brought me didn't allow for any benefit of the doubt.
Don't we do this all the time? We label someone as arrogant, lazy, stupid, insensitive, or mean simply based on a one-sided observation that is devoid of all the facts or any sense of context. We turn the inconvenience or uncomfortableness that we experience into a character judgment, and to us the person is usually guilty.
At the conference I was at yesterday, one of the speakers told the story of a successful CEO who was asked to explain some of the leadership strategies he used with his company. The CEO said that his leadership mantra is "Ask first, shoot later." That is a reversal of the idiom. The line normally means: take action first, even if you're not sure. He explained that he wanted his employees to do the opposite. He wanted them to stop and think and then make wise decisions based on thought, wisdom, strategy, and prudence. If they took the time to ask and understand the situation before them, then they had a better chance of being successful in whatever they were trying to do.
What if that was our attitude with people as well? Ask first, shoot later.
What if "the benefit of the doubt" was something we are excessive with, not stingy.
What if our main priority while interacting with people is seeking to understand?
What if we treated everyone as if they deserved honor and respect?
It would allow us to see them as individuals, not our labels.
It would allow us to see a glimpse of their story, not just their supposed interruption of ours.
It would give us direct ways to help and serve.
Taking the time to understand people will give us a better chance of being successful in helping them.
And for me, it would have helped me learn what Mr. Muscles' name was. Because everyone has a name. And everyone deserves understanding, grace, and a little help.
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31