We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!