So.

A not careful enough mother ‘blackmails’ a hot meal  (normally reserved for the first class but she payed for it) out of a rather reluctant stewardess for her autistic daughter and a somewhat rigid pilot – but who acted completely within the limits of pertinent regulations) – lands the plane in the middle of the flight and has the family deplaned. All in the name of ‘safety for the rest of the passengers’ – who didn’t felt threatened, at any moment.

So what’s the big deal?
The mother should have brought along some food for her child or made sure in advance that she could order food inflight and nothing would have happened.
The stewardess could have taken it as an emergency instead of harshly judging the mother of an unfortunate child.
Or the pilot could have acted a little more considerately towards the very passengers whose safety he was so preoccupied about and continued the flight – if we are to take at face value the situation described in the article at no moment any of the passengers had been in any real danger. (The ‘obtrusive’ mother could have been ‘charged’ at the destination as well if the pilot really felt that she had to be given a lesson.)

What I’m trying to suggest here is that a lot of the unpleasant consequences experienced by the ‘innocent bystanders – a planeload of people loosing at least an hour of their lives, if not more, and UA footing the bill for a lot of additional fuel – could have easily been avoided if at least one of the three people involved – mother, pilot or the stewardess – would have acted just a little differently.

But the picture is even more complicated than that. To understand what I mean click on the picture above and jump to the comments section. It’s amazing how people who have not been there are so easily willing to pass definitive judgement about what had happened so far away from them and to apportion precise amounts of blame to the parties involved. It doesn’t matter which side they choose, I’m just amazed at their willingness to judge so easily a rather delicate situation, based exclusively on a sketchy report published by a reporter who wasn’t even there when the incident took place.

Exactly this fact, that modern people tend to jump, head on, to conclusion even without having access to a lot of the pertinent details does not bode well for our future.
Following ‘procedures’ – and giving up thinking with our own heads – is indeed easier but it somehow demotes us from the status of wise (sapiens) humans to that of disciplined (impulsive) apes.

And no, ‘disciplined’ is not that far away from ‘impulsive’. You see, ‘procedures’ are structured instructions devised, by some instance who doesn’t have much trust in those who get to apply the instructions, to be followed exactly in those circumstances when the judgement of the operators has been found unreliable by the those who came up with the idea of procedures in the first place.
In their turn, the operators – realizing that no matter what they’ll do their judgement will be second guessed – no longer take their time to carefully consider the situations and determine what procedure would be appropriate . They just apply the first pertinent procedure that comes to their mind and hope for the best. This way they unload faster the psychological burden felt by anyone who is compelled to make a controversial decision – hence both the impulsiveness and the desire to conform to the rules. The fact that the spectators have no qualms to pass judgement based on the scantiest information only adds to the pressure felt by the people who are liable to be judged. Besides the need to solve the current situation and the angst about the outcome now the ‘performers’ have to deal with what, and how intense, the public reaction will be. Knowing that most of the time the public is less than sympathetic doesn’t help things.

And if we add the fact that the public seems to favor ‘decisive’ action versus more ‘inclusive’ measures (which are perceived  as ‘wishy washy’) we start to understand why the contemporary world has become way more polarized than it used to be.

Who loses?
At first glance ‘the innocent bystanders’ – those who happened to be caught close enough to the action as to be directly affected by the interaction between the active parties.

But if we distance ourselves a little bit and take a closer look at the whole business we might arrive to a different conclusion.

Contemporary world has become so complex and is moving so rapidly that each of us is simultaneously involved in many situations, playing various roles. In some of them we are the active participants, in others we are just caught in the middle – as ‘innocent bystanders’ – and we learn about a lot more others from the media – as ‘distant but abetting spectators’, as in this case.

And it’s in front of the telly that we contribute the most to what’s going on.
This sounds strange, isn’t it?
When are ‘actively participating’ we don’t have much time to reflect about what is going on – so we act according to the prevailing social norms. In fact according to ‘the procedures’.
The whole thing usually starts when we innocently suffer the consequences of others behaving ‘abruptly’: we convince ourselves about the need to take our lives into our own hands and to never again allow others to prevail over us.
We usually exercise this new found resolve as spectators – our most common situation nowadays – only in that instance we are far from the actual action and not directly affected nor command much information about the whole thing so we consider the situation in a detached manner and without having enough information about the matter.
Even more, here, ‘in front of the telly’, instances are succeeding so fast that we don’t have time to at least consider each of them carefully. Hence our rather abrupt calls. After all why bother to analyze them in any depth? We don’t intimately know the persons involved nor do we have comprehensive information about each case…

This is how we set the stage for future abruptness. By allowing ourselves to pass fast – and rather inconsiderate – judgments about everything we effectively condition ourselves to a ‘black and white’ attitude towards the world. Small wonder then that we act so ‘decisively’ when we are involved as ‘active participants’ and even smaller that we have to suffer the consequences of the so much abruptness that is going on around us.

Don’t blame ‘procedures’ for that. In fact they are almost natural.
Reflexes, both those that are ingrained in us and those we learn during our life time are nothing else but Mother Nature’s way of doing things easier for us but none the less ‘procedures’.
Cultural norms are also ‘procedures’ only they have been adopted before the concept was coined and the term itself invented.

Only we can do something about this. It’s us who suffer the consequences so we need to take time and consider a lot more carefully before passing judgement. Or, even better, pass the ‘opportunity’, specially so if we don’t really need to.