Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A flight from Dallas and a BIG lesson about pre-judging

On my way back to DC from Austin (via Dallas), I found myself in my preferred aisle seat, but with 2 passengers to my right.

Once the doors were closed, I noticed that the seat one row in front of me, across aisle (and still on the aisle) was open, with no one in the middle seat.

Needless to say, I immediately grabbed it.

I was doing my work and when the flight attendant came by to ask for drinks, I started chatting with the gentleman in my row, seated next to the window.

It’s probably not a big surprise to you, but I tend to be one of those “plane talkers” and have many a good friend made on various flights.

As we chatted, I learned that this guy was also in technology, his company develops some cool mapping/data software for school buses, but-and I’m a bit scared to admit this-when he told me that he had programmers/development teams in Karachi and Abu Dhabi, I did start doing the calculation of “ok, what is my Jewish/Israel strategy for this conversation?”

I’d be lying if my first thought wasn’t, “this guy probably is anti-Israel at the least and at the worst, pro-Hamas or something like that,” and well, after a really long day, I wasn’t up for a fight. (And yes, that HAS happened to me before.)

Now, I am quite embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I fell into this trap because I could not have been more wrong.

Not only was Amir ridiculously nice, engaging, smart, etc., but it turns out that he had spent a few years working for an Israeli company (which, let’s be honest, would be enough to make even some Jews anti-Israeli), and came out with not only some admiration for their approach (well, not all of it), but recognition that some of what he had learned as a child in Pakistan (he emigrated to the US when he was 18), wasn’t so accurate.

Our conversation was enhanced at one point because I demonstrated a bit of that age old Jewish gift of chutzpah by asking the flight attendant, “hey, don’t you guys have any peanuts or pretzels back there?”

Her response was “what planet are you living on honey?” (but in a humorous way.)

Amir was skeptical, but I said, “hey, if you don’t ask, you never get.”

And, wouldn’t you know it, but a few minutes later, the flight attendant, Jan, shows up with a basket of nuts which were from the First Class cabin.

Amir was pretty surprised to say the least. I was riding the high that comes from being rewarded from chutzpah (something that doesn’t always happen, that’s for sure) and feeling validated.

At that point, Jan and I struck up a deeper conversation and I got a nice chunk of her life story, as well as promised to send a note to the American Airlines customer service team (which I have).  What can I say? I was feeling chatty.

A bit later, Jan returns, bringing 2 meals from the First Class cabin and asking “what kind of wine does your wife drink?”

Amir being Muslim and I being married to the NFO who is, well, the NFO, both said “my wife doesn’t drink wine,” which made Jan happy because she could then take it to her hotel room (she’d had a long day, so good for her!)

The only downside of our lengthy chat was that I neglected some of my planned work on the plane, but hey, I made it up in the cab and it was mega-worth it. In addition to our common technology-world lives, we both have 3 kids which are (sort of) the same age and we’re only 1 year apart in age.

Just a solid guy.

The conversation was fruitful, enlightening, and memorable. I learned a lot about Pakistan, Geo-location technology, and, most of all, the importance of not rushing to judgment.

For that, I feel very, very bad and mildly ashamed and I intend to carry this lesson with me for a long time.
We can call it the “Amir Principle.”

The corollary to that is the “Jan Principle.” Be nice to flight attendants and don’t be afraid of a bit of chutzpah (Amir’s newest Yiddish/Hebrew word, btw.)….You never know what might show up on your tray table.
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