Picture this. An 80-minute journey by air. A lady video records a man seated behind her, punch the back of her reclined seat. He seems seated at the back of the plane and doesn’t have the option to recline. She posted the video online and it generated a lot of conversation. It brought alive a newfound renewal to learning my manners.
My memories in just a bit. Staying with the story, the debate on reclining seats got reignited. The debate has been on for a while. There have been fist-cuffs midair. Inventive entrepreneurs made ingenious products that prevented the seats ahead from reclining! Of course, airlines didn’t waste much time in banning them!
And this time, Delta Airlines’ CEO chipped in. “I think that the proper thing to do is if you’re going to recline into somebody, that you ask if it’s OK first”.
That it wasn’t the proper thing to do, I never knew! I never recline. Not for manners or whatever. I just think what is offered in the name of ‘recline’ is such a sham! In most airlines, it should best be termed “mild tilt”.
That incident and all the commentary around it, got me thinking of my understanding of etiquette and manners. My first lessons of manners came from a certain Mrs.Rozario.
Learning my manners
Mrs.Rozario was our teacher in my early school. She was a towering presence and in this case, a lasting presence too. She instilled in me the importance of ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and such else. I remember her telling a rather intrepid me, that I should always mind my manners ” not just because it is important to do that but because it is a kind thing to do”.
That settled it then. I have forgotten much else of what she taught me. But this one stayed. Like a stubborn stump of a tree that kept standing when the whole forest succumbed to the force of a storm. But speak of manners and they are always about being kind and considerate to other people.
That’s been the first principle. It has been easier to walk easy with that principle in the bag, whilst working at home or abroad. People understand. And usually, help if I am missing a step or two.
But personal freedom?
Many years later, a professor in grad school stepped in with another dimension that helped in learning my manners better.
One afternoon, he narrated the apocryphal story of the man who punched another on the face. Mr.Mahalingam who taught us law would add his own flavours to his stories. The gist of this one was simple. A man punched another. When hauled up before the judge, the man said that he was just exercising his freedom to swing his arms. It so happened that the others face came in contact!
The judge proclaimed that a man’s right to swing his fists ends where the other man’s nose begins! This was the second stubborn stump of learning that has just stayed on through the years. My entitlement ends where another’s privilege begin. That includes personal time, space and much of everything else.
The sense of entitlement that pervades the modern-day world is often mediated by money, crowned by apathy and gives us false thrones to non-existent empires! (Of course, the thrones recline).
Notes to myself
On a reflective note, I wrote two points for me to bear in mind. Just to keep the perspective sane and focus on learning my manners again.
The first was Mark Twain. – “The Universe owes you nothing. It was here first.” I added, “And you didn’t pay for it”.
Second. Manners are about being kind to the people and their contexts. Reminding me of the mistakes I make often.
Like this mistake: When meeting someone, keep the ring tone low, if you cant help it. Better still, keep the phone on silent. Best? Keep the phone away.
Or this: The armrests in the middle seat belong to the person sitting in the seat. (Something that I learnt recently. But it is easy to see why if I applied Mrs.Rozario’s first principle)!
Cultures vary in different places. But the fundamental rule is being kind to the other person. That’s what Mrs Rozario would say. And kindness is increasingly going beyond the realms of value. I mean, it is becoming invaluable. That’s why it’s important to focus on learning my manners all over again.
Going back to the story
Here are two questions for you to reflect on the reclining seat. By the way, you, me and all other commentators were not there in the scene. We are blessed with hindsight and we can comment on what happened with impunity. But let’s desist from doing that and step into the future and wonder..
If you are the gentleman in question, what’s the best you would do?
If you are the lady in question, what’s the best you would do?
Remember, the questions are what is the best you could do? And of course, there are several things that can come in the way of us and being our bests.
Top picks for the 51st edition of The OWL Despatch
As always, here are five pieces of content that caught my eye the last fortnight that I put together for you.
1. Machine Learning comes in handy for discovering a powerful antibiotic. By feeding algorithm information of over 2500 drugs and a library of 6000 compounds, with results in minutes. That’s a whole new game.
2. What’s coming up is the ‘Peak Decade‘ they say. We will hit the peak of globalisation. Capitalism. Inequality. And much else. If this is peak game well, the next decade will be different. Very interesting. To say the least.
3. “There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.” I would wager that this happens to you as well. Do you practice it on others or do you catch others doing this to you?
4. Do you have a mentor? Or have you considered courting one? Perhaps becoming one? Maybe studying all about mentoring? Perhaps you are one already. In any case, this will help you give a perspective. This piece is titled, How to Build a Great Relationship with a Mentor.
5. Finally, corporatisms that evoked a chuckle. I have a few of my own. Those I will share with you someday.
Readers Corner: Sinclair Miranda sent in this wonderful piece on mentoring.
That’s that for now. I look forward to the next time. Until the next time, stay sane. And when you are all set to take a flight, think of your own teachers and their first principles. Here’s wishing you a safe flight!
Curated reads for the 51st Edition of OWL Despatch
- Machine Learning discovers a new antibiotic
- Peak decade
- Why you don’t listen to people close to you.
- How to build a great relationship with a mentor