Does it take a 'Crisis' to Connect?
by Kristy Wood
I recently had to fly to Sydney for a work trip. I boarded the plane and put my bag in the overhead compartment then took my aisle seat. A woman walked down the aisle and politely indicated that she had the middle seat, so I smiled and got up so she could get past. I then sat down and went back to reading my magazine, making sure I wasn’t hogging the armrest or bumping her. Everyone on the plane was doing the same thing apart from a few people who were travelling together and were chatting. The man across the aisle from me who was dressed in a business suit dropped his phone on the ground without realising. I picked it up and handed it to him. He gruffly said thanks without making any eye contact. I made a judgment that he must have been a serious type of businessman.
Half way through the flight the pilot announced that the plane would now be taking an alternative route. It was stated that Sydney was experiencing strong winds and the plane didn’t have enough fuel to go into a holding pattern so we were now heading to the Gold Coast. No further information could be provided as to whether we would make it to Sydney that night or whether we would have to stay the night at the Gold Coast. As you can imagine, people didn’t like this as their plans were now changed. They started to question the airhostess demanding more information. They turned to other the passengers around them to share their disbelief and disappointment. They now had a communal thread and shared experience that connected them together.
Initially the conversations were focused on ‘I can’t believe they didn’t tell us sooner’, ‘what is going to happen now’ and general expressions of disbelief or frustration. The atmosphere of the plane was hostile and the airhostesses were being probed for more information. Then people started to share with each other how this impacted on their plans. They started to tell their stories, where they were going, who they were meeting, what they were up too. The atmosphere of the plane changed again, it was now less tense.
As people started to share their plans they opened up to each other. People weren’t engaging through their set ‘roles’. The businessman across the aisle from me, whom I had unfairly judged as being serious, started to make jokes and make light of the situation. I no longer saw him as ‘the businessman’ and started to get a sense of what he was actually like as a person. I enjoyed a great conversation with him, hearing about the plans that he had with his son that weekend. I realised what a missed opportunity this could have been. We often go through life with blinkers on, not engaging with those around us, just on our own individual path, getting through the day, but when something happens to us, our initial impulse and human nature is to turn to those around us. Why don’t we do this all of the time?
People continued communicating with each other for the remainder of the flight to the Gold Coast. I heard a young guy in his twenties and an older man who would have been in his seventies chatting. They excitedly came to the realisation that they shared the same surname. It was a bit like watching the Seinfeld episode where Jerry mimics being a child and saying “you like jam sandwiches, I like jam sandwiches, great we can be friends”. “Oh and you like playing ball, I like playing ball, great now we can be best friends”.
Seinfeld makes a great point, as kids we are more open and willing to accept and engage with people. We don’t often see the ‘roles’ or external factors that separate us. However something changes as we become adults, we don’t necessarily engage with the same openness, yet this impulse and desire for human interaction is still in us. On the plane, due to the unforeseen ‘crisis’, people’s defenses went down and they opened up to each other. Through talking to the two women next to me I realised that one of them had studied with my cousin at university and the other woman and I had two mutual friends in common. We shared funny stories about the people we knew and our experiences with them.
By the time we landed in the Gold Coast the atmosphere on the plane was quite jovial. This ‘crisis’ that upset everyone’s plans initially allowed people the opportunity to open up and most people generally enjoyed the connection they had with each other through this shared experience. Why aren’t we open with people like this all of the time? This experience showed that the human connections with each other made a difficult time more bearable and in this case even enjoyable.