The Power of Suggestion

Do you ever notice how your attitude or focus can be altered by the power of a suggestion from someone?

Since I spend more time than the average person on an airplane, and since boarding and deplaning are stressful situations, these are great times to observe people–including my own feelings.

Yesterday I flew from Orlando to Houston. Long story, but I’m a session chair for the process control track of a conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. I go home tonight.

It’s Orlando. Lots of families. It’s Thursday evening. Lots of business travelers heading home from conferences. Houston is a hub. The plane is packed. Packed plane means fighting for overhead bin space for all your carry on stuff-especially your “roll aboard” suitcase.

(I made the week-long trip with only a backpack to cut down my stress.)

The first thing I notice is courtesy. The first people to get on–do they try to cram everything they have in the overhead so that they (so they think) have more leg room?

I was among the early boarders. But there was a couple in my row. As I looked at the bin not sure that my backpack would fit under the seat, I noticed the bin was full. Two roll aboards and a couple of big bags of some kind. OK, I’ll just try to stuff it in the smaller area of the aisle seat. I look down. There is nothing under the seats of my row-mates. I find I can cram the backpack in the spot. No problem. But I notice I have become a little annoyed at the young couple beside me.

Later, guy comes in who is in the bulkhead row across the aisle from me. There is no overhead space for rows. He looks around somewhat annoyed and frazzled. He spots an opening in a bin in first class. Goes up and stuffs his backpack there. Goes back to his bulkhead row in economy plus.

Flight attendant comes back and says (as close to a direct quote as I can remember), “I hate to do this to you, but I need the overhead bins in first class for first class passengers. I see an open spot just behind you. Could you move your bag?”

Guy shrugs and complies. Then a guy in his row says, “Boy, she was really short with you.” The more he thinks about this, the more incensed he becomes. I can see the rising anger.

He stops the flight attendant. “What’s your name?” he demanded. “I’m sorry, I don’t give that out. I was stalked once by a passenger,” she replied. “What’s the matter?” “I don’t like the way you treated me and I want to report you,” he replied. She asks why, a little shocked. She’s one of those bubbly friendly type of people who probably would never consciously provoke anger in someone.

Here is the situation. High anxiety (everyone is worried about overhead bin space). I am inconvenienced. Someone says something. My annoyance escalates. I create a scene.

It is times like these when we all need to learn to take a deep breath. Gain perspective about the big picture. Shrug it off. Be glad I got on and the plane was early and my baggage survive.

Oh, yes, I did that to calm my annoyance. After all, I was settling in to read “Paul and the Faithfulness of God.” Wouldn’t have been much of a witness if I had used my power of suggestion on the couple beside me, would it!

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