No one is justified to harm another person because that person harmed them first.
If you’ve watched the news recently, chances are you’ve seen the video made by the woman on the airplane of the man behind her repeatedly punching the back of her seat because she reclined it towards him. It’s beyond viral and has produced a slew of names…The Great Recliner Debate, Debate-gate, and so on. Talk shows have centered an entire hour on nothing else, people are getting sued, CEO’s of several airlines have made public statements promising to address the issue and reconsider ‘recliner policy’ going forward.
It’s been…baffling. And as I watched it, all I could think of is that this is exactly why we have school shooters.
I’m not going to go deep into whether the woman was right or the man was right. Lots of people have covered that. Instead, I want to explain how the type of behavior exhibited between the man and woman helps to fuel school shooters. In fact, this behavior is a common thread running through school attacks only magnified to an alarming and dangerous degree. I’m talking about justification. The woman reclined her chair which to the man was a real or perceived injustice and therefore, the man felt justified to hit her chair.
Justification is fueling school attacks.
In other words, you did something wrong to me so now I’m justified in doing something bad to you. Unfortunately, when people feel justified to act badly they typically don’t match the injustice given to them. They amp it up, go at least one notch higher as in the case of the man on the airplane. The woman leaned back and encroached into his space. The man then felt justified to do something worse to her so he began to repeatedly punch the back of her seat.
I know there’s much more to their interaction than my very abbreviated summary here. I’m trying to go deeper to the underlying behavior that the man on the airplane felt it was okay to be inappropriate because the woman gave him justification to act the way he did. This is far more important to identify as well as highlight terrible notion if we ever want to end school shootings.
I’m often asked at parent conferences what parents can do to make sure their children never become school shooters. If I had to pick one thing, it would center around the idea of justification. Never allow your children to justify using violence when someone does something wrong to them. Don’t do it and don’t allow it. Of course, your children should defend themselves from physical harm but do not let them justify harming another person because that person harmed them first. That’s what happened on the airplane. The woman did something wrong to the man, at least in his mind, so he felt justified to do something worse back to the woman. This broken concept of ‘justice’ is a recipe for disaster and has violently fueled many school attackers, if not the majority, to commit mass murders.
The problem with what happened on the airplane is that it’s not isolated, but instead is being endlessly played out in different but similar situations daily across the nation. This feeling of justification is rampant in our society and it’s poisoning our chances to be better and it’s creating many unhappy lives because you cannot do harm to another so that you may be healed.
Just to wrap this thought up. What else could have happened so that this could have been avoided. The airline should have intervened and solved the issue. Another passenger could have switched seats with the man. The man could have found an empty seat or asked to switch with someone else. Another man could have told the other man to stop. The woman could have switched seats or leaned forward.
Some will say, “But the woman doesn’t have to lean forward. It’s her chair and she can do whatever she wants.” I’d say you’re right but here's what I’d tell my kids if they were facing this situation. It would be better to lean forward or get away from this guy because obviously there’s something wrong him. The man has clearly demonstrated that he feels justified, maybe even obligated, to do something bad to you because he thinks you did something bad to him. That makes him a threat and if he’s willing to do this, what else is he capable of? Don’t think of it as you giving in or giving up. You’re being smart and reading behaviors and these behaviors say the guy is acting dangerous.
There’s just one last point that I’d like to make because as I watched the video I couldn’t help but be reminded of a story from 1945.
At the end of World War II, the men who had been away returned home and reclaimed their old jobs. Women, who had filled these jobs, were made to do something else, something often less significant in duties as well as in pay. This was a real problem for everyone and everyone had real reason for complaint.
It got so bad at one restaurant that an efficiency expert was called into fix it. In this situation the women, who used to be the cooks while the men were away, were ordered to go back to being a waitresses and they were upset. The men, who had been called away to fight a war, got upset at the woman for thinking they had a right to what used to be their jobs. Every day it grew worse until both the men and the women simply refused to talk to each other. Each felt justified in their behavior because of what the other had done first. For a restaurant, this creates an impossible situation. How do the waitresses tell the cooks what to cook so the customers can get their meals if no one is willing to talk to the other person? And how does a restaurant stay in business when the customers aren’t getting served, but instead are being subjected to continuous and outright public hostility between staff members? They don’t and that’s why Dr. Smith was asked, begged, to visit the restaurant and to solve the problem.
Dr. Smith watched the staff interact with each other and in only fifteen minutes and for as little as fifty cents in supplies he provided a remedy. Chances are you’ve seen his solution in movies or maybe you’ve seen it in a restaurant since his device is still being used by some restaurants today.
It’s the metal wheel contraption, that big round thing, that sits in the window looking into the kitchen. To utilize it, a waitress takes the customer’s order, pins it to the metal wheel, and spins it. The cook then pulls down the order and cooks it. Dr. Smith provided a means for everyone to do their job without ever saying a single word to the other person. The fix was so simple as to be brilliant. Quickly the restaurant began to function and hungry customers got their food…even though everyone still hated each other.
Sounds like a big win…but it was in fact a horrible failure.
The men and women should have never acted that way. It was a failure of character on both of their parts. While it is true that each side had real complaints, neither side was justified to behave badly. The men and woman should have worked it out by using an already established and known method which was readily available, absolutely free to use, and time tested to work wonderfully. The men and women simply forgot it or more likely, refused to live by it. It’s called manners. Manners permit groups of people to hate each other but still stay on talking terms because they extend and receive respect inherent of good manners.
A little bit of good manners on that airplane might have made the difference.
If you want to really help your kids, if you want them to be connected to others in their lives then insist that they have manners. Manners are not a small thing, but a huge thing because they allow us to stay connected to each other…even when we truly dislike the other person or that person treats us poorly. Good manners may not solve everything but they will absolutely hurt nothing!
Think of manners as humanity’s WIFI and the password is Kindness (the K is capital).
If you want your children, students, staff, coworkers, family members to be connected to others in this life then give them the gift and example of manners wrapped in kindness.
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