In case the name doesn't ring a bell for you, Slater is the JetBlue flight attendant who flipped out, took over the plane's public-address system, swore at passengers who had been rude to him, grabbed an armload of beer, and made his way off the jet by means of its emergency slide. JetBlue promptly fired him.
Then the public reaction began. Radio stations began playing the old country hit "Take This Job and Shove It!" People expressed their admiration for Slater. They talked about his "guts" and admitted to their fantasies about doing the same thing. Other flight attendants and gate agents talked about the stress of working for the deregulated airlines where lines are long and tempers are short.
What's wrong with this picture? Whatever else Slater's behavior was, it isn't in the same ballpark with heroism. Piqued and boorish, yes. Heroic, no!
My wife and I were in the checkout line at Costco earlier this summer. A woman had her items on the conveyor belt in front of us — along with her four- or five-year-old son. As the clerk reached for one item after the other to scan them, the little boy yanked at one of them, hit himself in the face with it, and began to yelp. "You hit my son!" shrieked the woman. The startled clerk had to listen to her accuse and berate her as she paid and left — still mumbling over her shoulder.
We moved up in line and asked. "Are you all right? We saw what just happened and will be happy to let your manager know what really took place." She thanked us and said she didn't think it would be necessary.
"You handled that well," I allowed. "You were 'cool under pressure' and didn't let it rattle you. I'm sorry it happened."
If there is such a thing as heroism in the workplace, it was the poised lady at Costco and not the out-of-control flight attendant at JFK. It is the teacher who continues to work long-sufferingly with a hyperactive third-grader. It is the firefighter who keeps putting himself at risk for the rest of us. It is the nurse doing her job with professionalism. They do so while being criticized by parents, denied a raise because of the tough economy, or dealing with sick and surly patients.
All of us deal with unreasonable people. All of us have bad days. All of us grumble about rude clients and feel the need to vent or put someone in his place. But we wouldn't want to live where everyone gives way to dishonorable impulses.
Heroism is having the self-control to turn the other cheek and finish a task.
"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow.
"You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:38-48 NLT 2e).
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