On a recent cross country flight, I sat on the aisle seat next to a woman and her male companion who sat against the window. Across the aisle sat a business traveler, and seated next to him were two small children, the son and daughter of the couple next to me.
See the Solution, Not the “Problem”
The kids were being…well, kids. Not bad, but they were on an airplane, and they were bored. While waiting in line for take off, the little girl across the aisle unbuckled her seat belt so she could squeeze a stuffed animal in with her. Her father, seated to my left, immediately unbuckled his seat belt as the plane began to pick up speed. Even though I didn’t speak of word of the language this man spoke, the veins on his neck offered some clarity about what he wanted his daughter to do immediately.
The little girl got re-buckled with the help of the businessman next to her. During the first 20 minutes of the flight, the kids carried on as kids do, laughing loudly, touching each other, and making weird noises. The embarrassed parents seated next to me responded with what could only be the English equivalent of “No! Stop! Cut it out! Knock it off! I mean it!”
I couldn’t help but feel like I was stuck in the middle. Because, I was stuck in the middle.
Offer Compassion, Not More Criticism
Trying to ease the obvious tension the parents were experiencing, I opened up my laptop and showed the couple next to me a picture of my 4 kids. Then I motioned to their two kids with a broad smile and an upturned thumb. I intended my smile to convey a clear message: “You’re kids are just fine. Relax. They aren’t bothering anyone. You can enjoy your flight.”
The man across the aisle happened to look our way, and he smiled and gave an upturned thumb, too.
I saw relief wash over the faces of the couple next to me. They smiled back and returned the thumbs up gesture. Soon, their kids settled into sleep, and the parents, too, relaxed enough to lean back and close their eyes.
Expect ROI, Not Retribution
Until turbulence—or a small scream coming out of my mouth—broke the silence. The plane hit some bumps, and the contents of my stomach searched for daylight. I put a hand over my mouth and clenched my eyes tight.
Distracting me momentarily, I felt a strong hand squeeze my free hand. I thought it was the hand was God pulling me home. Turns out, the hand belonged to the woman next to me, the mother of the two children. When I opened my eyes, I saw her kind face nodding and smiling as if to say, “It’s going to be okay.” I didn’t pull my hand away.
After a few minutes, the bouncing settled down, and the lady let go of my hand. I found with no small degree of embarrassment that I had sweat all over the dear lady.
Lead by Doing, Not by Directing
I offered kindness to the parents next to me; they offered me kindness back. Engagement works the same way. When you engage others, they reciprocate. You can’t just ask others to engage; you have to lead the way and show them how. if you want to kick off an engagement revolution in your life, start by doing this: GIVE MORE OF WHAT YOU WISH TO RECEIVE.
If you’re looking for more kindness in your life, offer more kindness. If you want to see more smiles in your life, offer more smiles. If you hope to create a sense of belong and connection in your life, create an environment where people fit. If you desire engagement in your life, be known for being engaging.