Show a Little Dignity
Years ago I met a man who spoke of becoming enmeshed in a "multi-personed conflict" that spun out of control. An aggressive spirit of hate and vengeance saturated the attitudes and conduct of everyone involved.
When I asked how he resolved the mess, he mentioned a friend who confronted him and said, "Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you." Apparently, it was the perfect rebuke, and it caused this man rethink his behavior and bring some sanity to the situation.
I've never forgotten that unusual phrase—to show a little dignity—and whenever I've faced testy situations where the next word or the next deed would either fan the flame of conflict or spread the oil of peace, the reminder that my dignity is in play has been helpful.
Testy situations? Here's a real-world example.
A few days ago, I was at Boston's Logan Airport to fly to Chicago. At the boarding-pass counter, I ran into a problem. When the boarding-pass lady looked up my reservation, she discovered that I was scheduled to fly, not out of Boston, but from Manchester, New Hampshire, which is 50 miles to the north. That's a long distance when a plane is supposed to leave in an hour.
"Do you think you could solve my problem?" I asked. I pointed out that the airline had a Boston-to-Chicago flight leaving Logan at the exact same time. It seemed a good idea to me, I said, if she could put me on that plane. I also added a word about how happy that would make me. Happy is how I usually feel when someone sees a problem my way and especially when my mistakes are covered with little or no consequence.
The boarding-pass lady said she could do that. But there was a consequence: an extra $360 added to the price of my ticket.
"$360?" I said, shocked and starting to think defensively. "I'm a 100k customer on your airline. I give you guys a lot of my business. Can't you just get me on the flight for free as a courtesy?"
Everything I said made perfect sense to me. But not to the boarding-pass-lady.
"I'm afraid I can't. Those are the rules," she said.
The testy situation had reached its decisive moment. Even though this problem had originated with my forgetfulness, a part of me, not made of God, felt depreciated, blown off, victimized by a big company that seemed to put a monetary value on every transaction. This part of me quickly began to see the problem as the company's fault, not mine. As a result, this ungodly part of me wanted to say something sarcastic (about friendly skies, for example) that would hurt the other person as I felt hurt. Hurting her would help me to feel that I'd hurt the rest of the company , , , all the way up to the CEO. Perhaps she'd call and tell him how I felt so that his day would be ruined like mine was about to be ruined.
But another part of me remembered—just in time—the story about acts and words that reveal dignity. For a second or two I sorted out which of these two parts of me would control this situation. And that made all the difference.