Daraius’ Diary: The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy & Compassion

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Daraius’ Diary:  The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy & Compassion

Million Mile SecretsDaraius’ Diary:  The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy & CompassionMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Daraius:  We’ve got a great team at Million Mile Secrets helping with posts.  But I miss writing as much as I did in the old days!  So here I am writing about stuff that I really care about.  And which isn’t all miles-and-points related.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
― Mother Teresa

I felt very angry when I first saw David Dao being dragged out of a United plane, with blood streaming down his face.  But below that anger, was sadness and disappointment.  My throat choked, my body slumped down in the chair, and my eyes wanted to stop watching the video.

Daraius Diary The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy Compassion
I’m Inspired by Mother Theresa to Be More Loving & Peaceful

For the last two years, I’ve been learning about Non-Violent Communication and Empathy through the amazing Austin Empathy Sangha.  Why do I find it amazing?  Because for the first time, I actually learned and practiced how to communicate my feelings and needs in a way that included being aware of someone else’s feelings and needs too!

So while I am not responsible for other’s feelings and needs, I can be responsive to them.

Seek to Understand Others (Empathize!) Even, No, ESPECIALLY, When You Disagree

I’m pretty certain that having more empathy and compassion by and FOR everyone involved – including Dr. Dao, United Airlines, law enforcement, the passengers on the plane, readers of blogs which keep writing about this incident! – would have yielded a different outcome.

An outcome that was much more kinder, compassionate, and skillful than what transpired.

I’ll be the first to admit that it is REALLY hard being empathetic and compassionate, when I feel scared or threatened or angry.  And I don’t often succeed.

Daraius Diary The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy Compassion
I’ve Read Many Perspectives on This Incident. Some Side With the Injured Customer, Some With Law Enforcement, and Some Place All the Blame With United. But I Think We Can Agree That Whichever Side Was “Right,” the Bloody Result Feels Wrong

What Would a Kinder, Empathic, and Compassionate Response Have Looked Like?

Perhaps United Airlines staff could have just listened to Dr. Dao.  Ex.  “I hear that you’re really angry that we’re asking you to leave even though you have a boarding pass and a seat assignment.”

Sure, this could have taken 15 to 20 minutes (or longer), but it may have avoided the unpleasantness of the situation.

Perhaps Dr. Dao could have listened and empathized (not necessarily agreed with or complied) with United Airlines staff and Law Enforcement.  Ex.  “I see that you’re trying to follow your policies.”

Daraius Diary The United Fiasco Shows We Need More Empathy Compassion
When the Opposing Wants of Different People Clash, Anger Can Erupt. The Challenge Is to Take a Deep Breath. And Empathize

Perhaps Law Enforcement could have listened and empathized with Dr. Dao.  And saved the use of physical force for much, much later.  Ex.  “I understand why you’d be angry and want to sue United and not vacate your seat.”

The various parties had opposing and stubborn strategies:   Dr. Dao wanted to fly home using the ticket he purchased…no matter what.  United Airlines wanted to remove someone from the plane to make room for their staff…no matter what.  When called upon, Law Enforcement wanted to follow orders to remove the chosen person…no matter what.

And everyone was stuck with their preferred strategy instead of being creative in coming up with alternative strategies to meet everyone’s needs.

Taking time to honestly understand why others behave as they do can help resolve situations instead of creating new and worse situations by employing the “quick and easy” solution.  In my experience, the “quick and easy” situation usually doesn’t include everyone’s needs.

The resolution might not be exactly what you want or the other party wants.  But it might be better than a situation where EVERYONE LOSES…such as what happened in this incident.

What Can I Do?

Much more importantly, perhaps I can be compassionate and empathetic to everyone involved in the situation (everyone from Dr. Dao, to United Airlines, to Law Enforcement), knowing that they did the best they could do with the skills, training, and life experience that they had.

I can’t imagine that folks involved in the situation would like the situation to replay as it did.  And I wonder if I would have had a different response if I was in any of the other roles.

But the “gift” from the situation is that there is much more awareness that what may have been legally right (we’ll know more about this soon) is not always morally right.

Bottom Line

In tense circumstances such as these, I find that being empathizing and compassionate is the more humane approach.  But I also know that when I am triggered (by anger, sadness, etc.), I find it harder to be compassionate.

Calming down and asking ourselves that question might prevent a negative life-changing event.  It’s not easy to communicate with the aim of understanding.

I’m still learning too!

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Great article, Daraius. Thank you for reminding us that we are all God’s creatures and deserving of respect. And quoting Mother Theresa: Perfect!

It’s pretty simple. The Dr.paid for his ticket and had done nothing wrong until he was told to leave the plane and refused. That’s strike one. Dr. Dao should have complied with the aviation police when they gave him a lawful command to depart the plane. That’s strike two. I haven’t heard the officer’s version of the story yet but typically he would give the guy an ultimatum: Cooperate and leave or be physically removed and arrested.

Given those choices if the subject does not cooperate then officer loses credibility and possibly control of the situation if he does not follow through. At the point where the officer reaches for him, Dr.Dao should have said “Ok ok, I’ll get off…” but he didn’t. That’s strike three.

Instead the Doc doubles down and screams and goes limp dead weight.

My 20 lb dog does that when he doesn’t’want to follow my command, when I try to pick him up he suddenly feels like a 40 lb lump and is hard to move. Imagine what a full grown male weighs and how difficult it would be to move him into that narrow aisle if he goes dead weight on you….that likely explains why his face hit the armrest. Critics who claim he was “beaten” are being unfair to the Officers in that regard.

The Dr’s actions were unlawful and irresponsible. I hate that he got injured but sometimes that happens to people who exercise bad judgement.

Do I feel bad for Dr. Dao? No,especially since he will likely cash in on his bad behavior.

Do I feel bad for the officers? Yes I do, they were in a no win situation and did their job.

Do I feel bad for United? Sort of. They have been unfairly blamed for the guy’s injuries but they don’t tell the police how to do their job. United definitely made a lot of inconsiderate decisions here but they are only guilty of really bad customer service not assault. I shed no tears for their lost millions, I write that off to Karma.

Million Mile Secrets

I am grateful to you for taking the time to provide the additional detailed explanation around what it may have been like for the folks who had to remove Dr. Dao. And I hear your desire to ensure that the folks who were doing their job aren’t vilified.

While I think this was handled poorly at the gate, I disagree with the populist views on this incident. Three out of the four people gave up their seats for the $800 credit without incident.

This one ‘doctor’ was being totally ridiculous and put on a show because he knew he could extract money out of this. Instead of screaming like a child with special needs, civility and acting like a Dr. should have inherently kicked in. That’s how we function in western societies, where it’s not some jungle free-for-all.

Had I been the airline, I would have let him continue and told him that he was to never fly our airline again. Heck, contact the other three and get him banned from there too. It’s the only way belligerent and disruptive clowns like this will learn. It’s a private company after all and they have every right to give someone their money back and deny them service.

Million Mile Secrets

I am grateful that you took the time to leave a comment on this post and provide a different perspective. Thank you!


Goo article.

“Scott C” I can agree that the Dr. was not a totally “innocent victim” here, without also placing all of the blame at his feet.

It is true that 3 other people were coerced into involuntarily leaving the aircraft (they did not volunteer even though they were compensated) by a powerful multinational corporation without legal cause (seating crew members is not a true overbook situation). Just because 3 people left peaceably doesn’t make United’s actions correct, morally or legally.

The Dr. acted inappropriately, United acted inappropriately, and the Security forces acted inappropriately. I think trying to assign “primary blame” to any one party in a situation with so many failures is just a bit too simplistic.

I can’t disagree with Darius. Any number of parties could have taken a breath, tried to exercise a little empathy, and diffused a potentially volatile situation.

The important take away for me is to look for situations in my life today where I might be ignoring this same need for empathy. We have a good picture of just how ugly things can get when no one cares what “the other” feels. I don’t want to be guilty of the same.

And to “ff_lover”, I have absolutely no use for our current President, but come on. We were bashing each other over the head with sticks and stones in pre-historic times. Interpersonal conflict is not an invention of the Trump administration.

Million Mile Secrets

Kevin, Thanks for taking the time to share your appreciation! And for the measured explanation you provided in the comment above. 🙂

Darius, I don’t think compassion is going to solve this, in fact just the opposite. What we need is accountability for people’s actions, regardless of their level. Why haven’t we seen the security people that did this outed yet? Why did bankers not go to jail for their actions that caused the financial crisis? Why is Michael Milken still worth $2.5 billion after he went to prison for fleecing people? Hold people accountable for their actions, brutally, and they will think before they take those actions.

Million Mile Secrets

Joe, I hear your desire for more trust, understanding and safety so that unpleasant events (such as the one’s you mentioned) never happen again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the blog!

Thank you for continuing to post topics beyond collecting points. Your desire to share how we can better our lives and others lives is a main reason why I follow your site as it’s clear you care about how we can be good to each other not just concerned with ourselves. I think we all need to be reminded of the virtues of compassion over anger as one seems to come all too quick at the expense of the other. Compassion is much more difficult to achieve in the heat of the moment but offers everlasting good feelings in contrast to anger which offers only pain for all involved.

I’m surprised to hear a comment as such. Not that I disagree that this particular article rises above some of the more plain re-hashing that other blogs offered on the subject. But there are so many angles and discussions about every little incident filling up a lot of the “points and miles” world lately (OMAAT, TPG being two major examples). I prefer that such types of “news” stay in it’s own little world with those “prestigious” organizations such as fox and CNN. I like travel sites because I don’t want the stress the rest of the nation seems to need.

Million Mile Secrets

I appreciate your kind comment, and am very touched. Thank you!

I agree that compassion is much more difficult to generate than other emotions such as anger etc.. But the benefit of compassion to me is more enduring than other emotions.

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