It was one of those unwanted travel days. Stuck overnight in an interim city after a canceled flight from arctic weather, we were in second-day clothes. Using provided airline kits to brush our teeth and hair, we attempted to create some look of presentability.
Our day was spent waiting to hear if flights resumed, while working in a darkened hotel hallway after room check-out. By the time we took the late afternoon shuttle to the airport, all we wanted was to get home. Several hours later, we did.
Anxious to collect luggage and head home to warm showers, we found ourselves instead waiting in a long line to report missing luggage. I couldn’t help hearing the conversation behind me between a father and his college age daughter. She was joining her family for a snowboarding vacation and her overstuffed snowboard bag had arrived, but her suitcase hadn’t. She’d left that morning from the east coast and her bag had something in it she wanted to wear that evening. She was whining about her “terrible” inconvenience.
It was her father who tapped her frustrations with his own. Reminiscing with his daughter about tidbits from past travel mishaps, it was clear this dad was used to escalating his outrage until he got what he wanted. Ranting about inefficiencies of airports and incompetent airline employees, his venomous words fueled their plan.
“Maybe you should do what you did in St. Thomas” she said, offering to start the process by demonstrating her dismay to the agent. “I can cry if you want,” she offered. “No,” he said. “Let me handle it. I’m in the mood to let someone have it, and get you a free ticket or vouchers.”
It wasn’t their irritation over displaced baggage that surprised me, it was their calculating approach to the unintentional mishap. They viewed this incident as an opportunity to “get something.” For the rest of us and the harried agent, their actions “gave something” instead as toxic negative emotions spilled into a shared environment.
Earlier that afternoon while catching up on email, I’d read a daily mediation about actions. “All things are important — they all count,” it reminded. That father and daughter certainly had action-impact. Their ripple effect spewed negatively into a space as dozens of tired people had additional stress deliberated added. Months later their actions still bother me.
However, the good news is we can help. There’s a positive side to action-impact, too. You never know when a seed you plant, the behavior you demonstrate, or the kindness you express becomes someone else’s inspiration or makes their day.
In the scheme of things, our actions do matter. While we may not be able to stop the growing divide in our country, at least any time soon, we can stop adding to the negativity around us; stop reducing someone else’s day by overreacting to small incidents. When we hold a perspective on what really matters, we create more positive everyday encounters and actions. And right now, it seems that this world of ours could use our help on that positive side.