annie sisk : where annie writes

on kindness

OMG YOU GUYS!

Did you hear about the epic plane-note feud yesterday?! SO. FUNNY.

Except it’s not. At all.

But this is not an open letter to @theyearofelan.

It’s not even an attempt to criticize Elan for what he did. It’s definitely not an attempt to defend Diane.

It’s about something else entirely. And it’s prompted by this comment, which was apparently left to the Storify piece:

Diane is my cousin. I want to thank you for not pressing charges against her for slapping you. She would have been arrested for that, and spending a few days in jail would have been a particularly cruel irony under the circumstances. I am a bit surprised you said you could hear her breathing, because Diane has stage IV small cell lung cancer. This would have been her last Thanksgiving with us. I say “would have” because she did miss her connecting flight. She arrived this morning, having spent the night in a hotel in Phoenix. Admittedly, Diane hasn’t been handling her imminent death very well, but she really was looking forward to being with us and the rest of her family- all of whom were flying in for one last Thanksgiving with her. In her defense, she was very contrite and upset about her behavior on the plane. Certainly everybody wanted to get where they were going, but perhaps she can be forgiven for thinking that her need was more pressing than most. Thanksgiving has always been Diane’s favorite holiday, and her comment about the stuffing is true- she was the “keeper of the family recipe” and all of her nieces were planning to be instructed (one more time) in the mysterious ways of Auntie Diane’s stuffing. Since she missed her connecting flight, this did not occur. We are going to try to get as many of the family together as we can tomorrow, but that is up in the air. The plans were all for yesterday. I wish you had known her before she got cancer. You would have loved her. She was bright, funny, and compassionate, and had a self-deprecating sense of humor. She taught elementary music. She loved kids. She loved to laugh. She was everybody’s favorite aunt. Actually, she still is.

(My source for this is the first comment in this thread on the Jezebel GT piece. It was also replicated in the comments to this piece on the UK HuffPo version of the story. For some reason, the comments on the Storify page won’t expand for me.)

Is it true? Does Diane really have terminal cancer? I have no idea. Neither do you. Neither does Elan.

Again: not the point.

so what the hell is the point, then, annie?

If it’s not to defend Diane, or praise her, nor is it to criticize Elan (except for one single thing – see below) or make all those who piled on with the praise of his actions feel like shit, what is my point here?

Excellent question.

It’s this:

Be kind, for you never know what secret battles others are fighting.

it started out pretty hilariously …

I started to read the ongoing account shortly after this tweet from Gale:

Twitter - Elan Gale - Diane is in her late 40s or early 50s. She is wearing mom jeans and a studded belt and she is wearing a medical mask over her idiot face

Something about that particular tweet stayed with me as the saga unfolded over the following hours – and bugged the crap out of me. It was this wriggly little notion, poking at me through all the hilarity:

Is Diane sick? Could that maybe have something to do with her behavior? 

But for the most part, I was on board with the smackdown. Who wouldn’t be? Who hasn’t had that experience, or some version of it?

And aren’t we all sick and tired of ill-mannered, rude, entitled people invading our space with their awfulness?

And shouldn’t we support people who call out this kind of ill treatment of the folks who are working – on Thanksgiving Day, hello! – for our benefit?

Our food servers, our front desk clerks, our flight attendants and ticket agents, our cab drivers …. don’t they deserve to be treated a little bit better than that?

Yeah! Go #TeamElan!

…but then …

Then Elan sent this note.

I admit – from that point forward, none of this was funny to me. I don’t think it’s funny for a man to tell a woman in a confined space to “eat my d*ck.” I think it’s creepy, insulting and completely out of bounds. (There. That’s my one and only direct criticism of Mr. Gale.)

But the bigger problem for me was that same small, niggling doubt …

Is Diane sick? Could that maybe have something to do with her behavior? 

I realized this morning that it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter whether the comment from Diane’s cousin is legitimate and accurate.

What matters is that it could have been true, for all Elan Gale or any of the rest of us knew.

Wait. No. That’s not exactly right.

It’s that we had no way of knowing what battles Diane was facing.

We could have known.

Someone – Elan, maybe? – could have asked her. “Hey, I see you’re upset – we all are. But taking it out on the ticket agent isn’t fair. What’s going on? Is there anything anyone can do to help you?”

Here, my Inner Cynic is thinking,  as commenter ResidualFreakness on the Jezebel piece noted, …

… I guess a series of tweets about “I saw a woman who was really stressed out and really rude, so I decided to ask nicely to calm down and inquired about what’s going on to make her act this way and it turns out there’s this whole backstory!” wouldn’t have gotten quite as many hits.

OK, that’s unkind. I don’t think Elan originally set out to get web-famous with this kerfuffle.

Instead, I think what happened was much more insidious and much more common.

I think Elan saw bad behavior which offended him. He felt compassion for the workers who had to put up with Diane’s complaints. He thought about it. Stewed about it. (As we do.)

And then he realized, wait-a-minute-I-can-do-something-here … (As we do.)

And he screwed up his courage, and he did something. And he reported it to Twitter – maybe seeking feedback, maybe anxiously seeking an answer to the question he was asking himself – “did I just do the right thing?” (As we do.)

And then the Internet responded in full voice: HELLZ YEAH! And emboldened by that response, and maybe a little high on his own righteousness, he escalated it. (As we do.)

And it ended in a slap, and yet another smackdown.

I write this not to excuse what Elan said/did. I write it to point out “This is exactly how easy it is to lose your kindness – how quickly your positive calling-out of bad behavior turns to something much uglier and much less helpful.”

So I’m not mad here. I’m not angry at Elan. I’m not #TeamDiane.

I’m also not excusing Elan’s behavior or choices.

I’m just sad.

As I am, often, at missed opportunities.

I don’t have a life motto or a credo, but if I did, it’d be something like that pink-font quote higher up on the page. I don’t always succeed, mind you, but I am always cognizant of this thought. I try.

And I wonder if, instead of waking up feeling shaken, shamed, angry, and abused yesterday morning in her hotel room, maybe Diane could have woken up a little humbler, wiser, and grateful, had it occurred to Elan.

Be kind, for you never know what secret battles others are fighting.

#TeamKindness



28 responses to “on kindness”

  1. Andy says:

    It’s people like making excusing for this ladies terrible behavior that allows them to act like children and have temper tantrum. We all have problems that others don’t know about. Let’s not forget that élan started this mess because Diane was being rude to an airline worker who was also away from their family dealing with angry people. I wish that people like you would stop making excuses for people like Diane. Maybe if there were more people like élan, calling people out on their shit, people would act nicer towards each other.

    • Annie says:

      “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain–and most do.”
      — Dale Carnegie

      No one is making excuses for Diane. Literally, no one. You’ll not see that anywhere in this piece. (Quite the opposite, actually.) What I’m saying is that kindness costs nothing, except the sacrifice of a brief moment of ego-pleasing self-righteousness, and it accomplishes much more. There was a third option here – other than “say nothing” and “take the bitch down.” Thanks for commenting. 🙂 #TeamKindness

  2. Chad says:

    This is a superb piece. I whole heartedly agree with your views on the entire incident. It’s the attitude we carry when we engage in these sorts of behaviours that makes all the difference. Regardless of Diana’s physical or mental health, from the moment Élan tweets “idiot face” the entire thing takes a tone shift that comes to define everything else that follows. I would love to call it one of those heart in the right place moments, but that glorifies it still and I just don’t want to do that. There are lessons to be taken from all of this, but they certainly aren’t the ones being waved about right now.

    Thanks again for the wonderfully thoughtful piece.

  3. tom says:

    Good job, kiddo. I’m proud of you. 🙂

  4. Rand Careaga says:

    I followed your link, and looked at the first note (on the coaster). It strikes me that had “élan” ended it a sentence or two earlier, it would have had a better chance of quieting the passenger in &A down, and would have been a gesture of kindness rather than snark. One does hate to see service personnel abused for circumstances they are powerless to affect, since they are obliged to endure insult meekly or lose their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the exchange did nothing for the flight attendants, and probably increased the sum total of misery aboard the aircraft, even taking into account the satisfaction élan may have felt composing his ripostes.

    • Annie says:

      Yep, I agree – the first note, minus the “shut your mouth” sentiment, would have produced a far more effective (if far less righteously satisfactory) ending. Thanks for commenting. #TeamKindness

  5. Lynn says:

    A friend shared this with me this morning, and it crystallized thoughts and feelings that had been swirling around my brain since I first saw the original piece. I just shared a comment on a FB thread discussing the whole thing, and this is what I said:

    “At first I found it hysterical — and there’s no denying it’s funny. (Personally, I thought it stopped being as funny when he got juvenile — thought he missed some great comedy opportunities with the notes…he could have made them smartly funny instead of just “middle-school boy”). And there’s also no denying it was fun feeling all self-righteous about the admittedly obnoxious Diane. Even with all that, though, I did have that low-grade icky feeling that comes whenever I mock or make fun of another human being. My discomfort grew after reading some of the comments on Jezebel that made me look at it differently…and then I read this this morning:

    http://anniesiskwrites.com/on-kindness/

    So I deleted the whole thing from my wall. Not judging anyone else’s opinion of it (and, like I said, there’s no denying it’s funny!), but I don’t like how I feel when I’m mean, even when it’s apparently well-deserved.”

    Thank you for reminding me about who I want to be in this world. xo

  6. Michelle says:

    We are all struggling. Why is it so hard to remember that?

    • Annie says:

      I honestly don’t know, Michelle. (Seriously, I started this response to you a few different ways, variations on the “I think it’s because…” theme, and I had to delete every single one of ’em because none of them stood up to logic or sense or experience.) Thanks for commenting. #TeamKindness

  7. Helen says:

    It may be that Diane was being a complete ass, but the moment Elan told her to ‘eat my d*@k’ he lost any claim to being humorous. That kind of obscenity, with its undertone (?) of violence, is the type of verbal sexual harassment that women should not have to tolerate. The woman was upset and rude (and maybe she does have terminal cancer – but that doesn’t actually change it for me), but Elan was a verbal thug, and should be condemned as such.

    • Annie says:

      As my mom once pointed out to me “Someone else’s bad behavior doesn’t justify your own.” Thanks for commenting, Helen. <3 #TeamKindness

  8. Mindy says:

    We don’t know if Diane’s niece is real. Heck, we don’t know if Diane is real. But when someone needs to be somewhere to do cooking on THanksgiving Day, shouldn’t they travel a day or 2 earlier? Yes I know it’s cheaper to travel that day – I’ve done it. But my arrival was a last minute decision, and I wasn’t bringing a crucial part of the festivities, or intending to create that part.

    As for being nicer to people on Thanksgiving, shouldn’t that apply to Diane too? And if she was so forthcoming about her need to be home and her importance to the stuffing, why wouldn’t she say, “This is probably my last THanksgiving on Earth, PLEASE GET ME HOME SOON!?”

    Yes, we should all be kinder, and we should all do our part to make the world a nicer place, but when you see someone clearly NOT doing that, it’s OK to be human, and cheer for the other guy.

    • Annie says:

      No one said otherwise, Mindy. But Elan went way beyond calling out Diane on her behavior, didn’t he? That’s what this post is about – the line that separates calling someone out on bad behavior from the place where you turn into an ego-fueled, internet-goaded bully. The kicker is that had Elan simply stopped about a line short of the first note, as commenter Rand noted earlier, he’d have succeeded in getting her to calm down and be quiet, most probably, and avoided the escalating dogpile that followed. Thanks for commenting. #TeamKindness

  9. Contessa says:

    We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all have bad days sometimes, and when some of us are sick, don’t feel well, have had a ton of crap go wrong, well, we don’t always behave as we should. I am not excusing Diane’s behavior, if her behavior was what Elan claims it to have been. That being said, next time you see someone upset, crying, or losing it, perhaps pouring gasoline on an already simmering ember is not the thing to do. Beating a wasps nest and standing around to see what happens isn’t too bright. Furthermore, it’s one thing to take someone aside and say, “hey, what you did and are doing is uncool,” but it is another thing entirely to publicly humiliate someone for your own self-aggrandizement and bully and harass someone and elicit allies in doing so. Elan went from being a real-time bully to a cyber bully. Let’s keep in mind that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are T.V. shows that thrive on serving up a living breathing human being’s broken heart and tears as something to feast on for our own entertainment. This whole incident, just like shows like this, should make us take a look at what is happening to our society. Watching someone’s real-life tears, humiliation, hurt, and pain is real, yet we seem to find it amusing and entertaining. Why? Have we lost the ability to see the difference between the fact and the fiction? Have we lost the ability to feel compassion because we see something on a video clip instead of it happening right next to us? What does this say about us as human beings? It’s schadenfreude, nothing more, nothing less. We, as a people, find the pain and suffering of others funny, enjoyable, and yes, entertaining. We are no better than the Romans watching people being torn apart limb from limb. Elan is a perpetrator of this mind set, and he is a very sadistic person that is being celebrated by a mob that screams for blood and tears. Would he have reacted this way if Diane had been a 20 something buxom blond or a 6 gt 5 man? Probably not, so that makes him a few other things besides a cyber bully and a mean person.

    • Annie says:

      “perhaps pouring gasoline on an already simmering ember is not the thing to do” – that phrase of yours resonated with me big time, Contessa. Yes – schadenfreude is rampant, and even though that too is human nature, shouldn’t we strive for better? I think your analogy to Roman gladiatorial sport is apt, too – the web seems to be one huge Coliseum during times like this. Anyone can be kind to San Francisco’s BatKid. It takes a compassion ninja to be kind to the Dianes of the world. #TeamKindness

  10. Claudia says:

    Been grappling with the issue of compassion and the collective loss of a moral compass in society since 2000. The stolen election, Abu Graibh, the rise of the Tea Party and hate groups, current Congressional cuts in social services, et al point to a systemic disease, certainly in the US. We seem to be the meanest, stingiest, and most callous of all First World countries, and many 2nd and 3rd world countries. Some folks say it’s situational–that we all have the inherent capacity for being cruel to othe humans. Perhaps so, I don’t know.

    What I DO know is that we also have the capacity to stop and reflect on how we respond to the actions of other people and make a conscious choice to practice compassion for all involved, and act (or not act) accordingly. In order to do that, however, we must learn that there IS such a thing as compassion as early as possible, mostly through example and experiencing it ourselves. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. It isn’t taught in school, sometimes not even in religious organizations. Would love to see non-violent communication as part of the curriculum.

    I have no solutions, other than to do what you’ve done, Annie–think and then write about it, talk about it, bring it to the attention of as many folks as possible. Great post!

    • Annie says:

      Thank you Claudia …. we do seem to be turning into a country/society of mean-spirited people with a pretty alarming lack of compassion these days. So yes, let’s keep talking about it. Let’s keep asking the questions – of each other and ourselves. And let’s keep challenging ourselves to do better. Cheers, and thank you for commenting. #TeamKindness

  11. Pamela Slim says:

    A powerful way to fight lack of civility is with love.

    Amazing things happen.

    Not that it is never appropriate to get angry – because sometimes anger is warranted. But I agree that as time went on in this exchange, Elan got very excited by being mean. The crowd weighs in, and it gets kind of scary. And that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

    #TeamKindness

  12. When I saw this on FB the other day I started reading it outloud to my sister in law and neice. We laughed at first but as the story unfolded, we all got uncomfortable and a little bit sad. So strange that we didn’t even talk about why. Just changed the subject. You always seem to be able to distill the bigger meaning in weird situations, Annie. And you’ve done it again here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I feel like I remember who I am again. #TeamKindness

    • Annie says:

      <3 Tea - thank you so much. That means a great deal to me coming from a wordsmith - or wordchef! - like you. #TeamKindness

  13. Elisabeth says:

    Élan crossed the line when he started targeting/making fun of how she was dressed vs sticking to what was offensive -her treatment of the service agents at the airline. When he crossed that line he was no longer a champion of the service reps, he bece a bully.

  14. Jenny says:

    This story reminds me of a time, years ago, when I was pissed off at the telephone company (pre-cellphone days *cries*). I was on a mission. They were gonna explain these charges to me once and for all! I would not take any pansy footing around this time! I was a young single mom going to college, on welfare, with two kids under age 4. I’ve never been one to mistreat customer service reps or anyone working in these types of positions. But I was broke, I was confused and I was scared.

    So, I get on the phone and the woman on the other end almost immediately meets my wrath with her own. We go at it for a good half an hour, spitting venom at each other until, finally, I just break down. I tell her everything that’s going on with me, why I’m so upset and frightened and I apologize for my bad behavior. So SHE starts crying and proceeds to tell me how she’s closing on a new house this day and got into a car accident on her way to work. All her paperwork flew out onto the highway and was lost. She didn’t know what she was going to do.

    She and I talked for almost an hour after that, just being a listening ear and shoulder to cry on for each other. I ended the call not having any of my original burning questions answered, but having made a new friend and received a wonderful lesson.

    I hear these types of stories all the time now, maybe because since that day I’ve been tuned into them. The conclusion I’ve come to is that when people are behaving at their most ugly, 99% of the time it’s because their life is currently feeling out of control. They’ve lost someone dear to them, they’ve just found out they’re ill, their electricity just got turned off and they don’t know how they’ll fix it. Whatever it is, it’s just as you pointed out, Annie, in this post.

    So now my rule of thumb is to always treat someone with kindness when I find myself disgusted by their actions. It’s f’n hard, much easier said than done, but I think sometimes it can make all the difference. We’re only ever responsible for the energy we put out in the world. The moment we crown ourselves “keeper of the good vibes” for everyone’s behavior, we’ve already slipped over into the dark side.

    (and wow, sorry for the long comment…but you got my wheels turning 🙂

    • Annie says:

      Jenny, no worries about length here, mi amiga! (CLEARLY.) I love your rule of thumb. I wrote on another comment here that it takes a kindness NINJA to be kind to the Dianes of the world. It’s a far more challenging ….er, challenge. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. <3 #TeamKindness

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