When You Think of Bitter, Who Comes to Mind?

Seth Godin wrote a powerful post today on generosity. And I wasn’t surprised that the single example he used to illustrate the opposite of generosity was airlines.

And the killer of generosity is bitterness. You may have noticed while traveling on airlines like American that many of the employees you encounter act as though they’re trapped. Trapped by a race to the bottom in efficiency, trapped by a long history of bureaucracy that offers no control and no room for humanity. In those situations, it’s easy to give up, to shrug one’s shoulders and to soldier on, just doing your job. It’s not surprising, then, that any attempt at organizational kindness instead feels like a poorly constructed marketing come-on, not the human act of generosity we seek.

I experienced this bitterness recently on US Airways when a flight attendant barked at me about where I wanted to place my carry-on. As I obediently did what she demanded and then sat down, I thought about why I felt so rotten. Was I really wrong to want to place my bag one row in front of my seat instead of one row behind? I was one of the first people onboard, so space was not lacking. On the other hand, what she instructed me to do was not unreasonable. I realized it was the way she said it. A generous flight attendant could have accomplished the same thing, but made me feel good about it.

I love Seth’s final line:

We long to connect, all of us. We long to be noticed, to be cared for, to matter. Generosity is the invisible salve on our wound of loneliness, one that benefits both sides, over and over again.

It’s good to remember that no matter what our job, each interaction is an opportunity to connect generously with someone, to help them know they matter.