HOW TO CULTIVATE STRESS AT 35,000 FEET

Several years ago, when airlines still flew “wide bodies”; and airline food consisted of an entire sandwich plus a snack, I decided for some reason to fly to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Florida during Spring Break.  Wide-body aircraft, of course, could accommodate a huge number of passengers. And that day, they did... all children! <?xml:namespace prefix = o />
 
"Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen. We would like to board passengers accompanying small children first..." Everyone around me seemed to stand up at once. There were one hundred sixteen children on that flight. I was one of the last passengers to board.
 
During the flight, I was truly enlightened by the manner in which some parents seem to skillfully cultivate stress. There is a technology involved:
 
· (a) Begin by insisting in a harsh tone of voice that a child behave a certain way;
· (b) when he fails to do so, remind yourself that this poor behavior is probably the result  of something inside the child-- "hyperactivity", "immaturity", "short attention span", "bad genes", and "no respect" (sometimes called, Dangerfield's Syndrome);
· (c) then threaten to leave the child home next time.
 
Fifteen minutes after boarding, everyone under ten seemed to be crying and a lot of pale-faced adults were busy chewing Di-Gel. The ongoing chaos reminded me of a belief I share with parents and teachers: There are no mistakes in communication, only outcomes! When the outcome you receive is not desirable to you, it becomes important for you to do something else, in order to elicit a different outcome.
 
Frequently though, when adults' patience is short, they may treat an undesirable outcome (such as running around the plane, screaming, playing in the bathroom sink, etc.) as a child's mistake, and blame him for it. While this affords adults the opportunity to ventilate feelings, it often fails to produce the desired behavior (i.e., children sitting quietly playing in their seats). There was apparently at least one mother on board who shared my belief. As a skillful communicator, upon noticing that two of her four children-- currently out of their seats-- had not responded to, "sit down", she tried, "O.k., Tracy is sitting nicely coloring, she gets a box of raisins. Who else would like raisins?" As she removed four small raisin boxes from her purse, four children were already sitting in their appropriate seats (one had even buckled his seat belt!). This outcome was achieved quickly, without verbal threats, blaming or labeling of the children. Interesting.  As we approached our destination, I created a story to illustrate the point about control and responsibility...
 
Airplane Crash Story (T-Tower, C-captain)
T: This is the tower calling the captain of flight #27. Come in please.
C: This is the captain of flight #27, what do you want?
T: Your course is erratic. We are having difficulty tracking you on our radar. Please give us your instrument readings.
C: Look, I'm too busy flying this plane with over 125 passengers to waste time looking at instruments.
T: But you seem to be encountering turbulence-- how is the craft holding up?
C: Holding up? What do you expect from a piece of junk like this. It's falling apart. I've asked for new wings, but my requisitions just get ignored. If it doesn't fly properly it's not my fault. And another thing, why don't I have a second officer? It isn't fair. I know a lot of pilots on other airlines that have it much easier. I can't control this plane without help.
T: How about the flight attendants? Perhaps they can help.
C: Don't be absurd. I can't count on them. They don't care about my problems. They're always catering to someone else. When it comes to the difficult work, I always get stuck with it. This isn't exactly a 747 you know!
T: Captain, the turbulence is increasing. Are your passengers all right?
C: Are you kidding? Every flight I get the worst group. Why you should just see them-- I wouldn't be surprised if they tangled up their oxygen masks and put on their life-jackets inside-out! What am I supposed to do when I'm working at such a disadvantage? What do you EXPECT?
T: Crash!