There was a thought provoking Op-Ed piece this past weekend called "Justin Beiber for President." The author's point was that during these difficult times adults seem to be simmering over into emotional meltdowns and that only the children seem composed and content. It is all around us in various forms. A baseball player for the Mets gets into a disagreement and is arrested for punching the father of his common law wife in the face. Francisco Rodriguez, known as the "emotional closer" for the baseball team, demonstrated that maybe his emotions need some anger management tools and proved he knows a whole different way to bring a situation to a close.
New Yorkers are plenty familiar with a certain finger and how it is used to communicate frustration and defiance. You expect it from drivers, people on bikes or pedestrians crossing the street. It is part of the culture of our lives. But who expected the offending gesture to come from former Mayor of New York, David Dinkins, when he flashed it on his way into Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel's eightieth birthday bash? The genteel man in a pink seersucker jacket answered a heckler, who called out to him by name, with the universal sign for you-know-what so quickly that people in the crowd weren't even sure that he had actually done it.
But the title for the whiniest meltdown goes to Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant, who responded to a passenger's rude behavior by getting on the plane's intercom and letting loose with a barrage of choice words, released the emergency air chute, and slid down after grabbing a few beers for the ride. We have yet to hear from the woman who set Mr. Slater's meter into high gear but other passengers have stated that he wasn't without blame.
The City Room section of the New York Times said that we have gotten to know two men in the aviation business through their reactions to circumstances, one being Captain Sullenberger, who became known as the "hero of the Hudson" with his quick thinking that brought a plane to a safe landing in icy waters in January 2009 and the other, Mr. Slater, who became the poster boy of snarky, spectacular exits. The article poses the question "Who are you? Are you a Sully or a Slater?" Do you rise to the occasion in the face of adversity or take your toys, or in Mr. Slater's case a few beers, and walk off in a snit? The names of these two drastically different men are now synonymous with heroism and complete selfishness. Not only are you expected, as the employee of the airline, to be sure and keep your composure, it is what you are paid to do. Rude behavior, punching someone in the face or flipping a certain appendage is a way of expressing yourself but when your actions imperil other people when you walk off the job that is not something to be applauded, as of course, the ubiquitous "fans" are doing on the FaceBook page that has been created for Steven Slater. Someone could have been on the ground when that unannounced emergency slide was dispatched, it will cost the airline money to fix it and he left passengers in his charge unattended. Nothing to be proud of really.
Not responding to negative behavior may be the more difficult path to take but it is certainly the one to aspire to. Mr. Slater's ensuing hissy fit in response to a passenger's rude behavior doesn't make him a hero, it makes him a failure. Whatever that female passenger said or did to Steven Slater that day on the airplane he allowed her to make him lose any composure he may have had and for that he should not feel vindicated for his rant on the airplane's intercom and his trip down the slide to the tarmac below. Eleanor Roosevelt had a well known quote regarding personal behavior. "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." Perhaps, Mr. Slater and anyone else can heed that advice and people will stop applauding such selfish histrionics.