The Middle Ground

The creative way to enriching your relationship.

The Jet Blue attendant and everyday conflict resolution: What's the connection?

The Jet Blue Attendant and everyday conflict resolution: What's the connection?

There are not too many ways or means to capture center stage on Twitter,Facebook and virtually every facet of print and digital media with one grand gesture.

   Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant, demonstrated enough attention-getting power to claim such bragging rights.


The air traveler AND the workers who make their trips possible -- in spite of how many times we've been told that the skies are friendly -- face apprehension, resentment, uncertainty and, from time to time, stark terror as they trek through the troposphere. The non-harmonious mix-up of impatience, anxiety, insolence and impertinence that these workers encounter takes its toll.


His lawyer reports that Steven Slater was conscientious and well-suited to his profession. Both parents -- mother, a flight attendant herself, and father, a pilot - gave Steven a deep connection to the airline industry. Yet Steven was driven -- by a steady accumulation of sleights and workaday tensions -- to proclaim, as did Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore."


Barreling down the emergency chute of the Airbus, Mr. Slater registered his outrage and desperation. He seemed to say, "I may know my place, but I just can't stay there, not anymore." With one extraordinary move, he exited his public persona and asserted a personal self. And America embraced the realness that his internal drama turned on. He staged a real life reality show. He could no longer stand to be treated like an "it."


Was his a creative act, by which he rescued his eroding sense of self? Or was it a destructive act, in which he capitulated to the pressure of his job situation?
What do you think? How do you see it?


Steven and the customer who provoked him are far from being a couple yet they will remain linked, for as long we remember them, to the hostile integration in which they became entangled - and its consequences.


In my therapy practice, I see partners - often desperate and at their wit's end -- act out when one or the other, or sometimes both, feel locked into a thankless and/or unwanted position in their relationship. Like Steven, many partners feel they either

Steven Slater, Jet Blue Attendant

Steven Slater, Jet Blue Attendant

 do not know how to begin talking productively about what is bothering them or they feel immersed in despair about the possibility that talking things out can do any good.


In either case, these partners often - rather than reflect on their options -- simply react, as if on automatic pilot. And rash acts are too often counter-productive. Case in point: now that the runway dust has cleared, Steven has indicated he would like his old job back. Jet Blue management has signaled unwillingness to have him.


Feelings of desperation can demonstrate the poverty of options that an acting-out partner feels. Sometimes that poverty of options results from a poverty of imagination. Where lack of imagination, lack of patience, is the problem, blaming your partner -- even if they do need to improve something about themselves or the way they act towards you -- will not bridge the communication gap that is, most often, at the heart of the problem.


Caveat: :When and where abuse is the issue, responses that bring immediate resolution are imperative.


Try this anger exercise: Sit in a calm, quiet spot and recall the last angry interchange you had with your partner. Think about the reasons you were angry. Recall what you did. Jot down at least two other actions you might have taken in the place of what you actually did. Of the three options - the actual course of action you followed and the two alternatives, jot down which option you feel would have been best for you and your partner. Note why you feel the way you do.
If your partner is willing to participate with you, ask him or her to go through the same procedure and then discuss how you both handled your anger and alternate options that you might have considered. Discuss with your partner which option each of you feel would have been the most productive and why.


Key Point: The exercise is a means for you both to learn something about each other AND is designed to help each of you to get used to the idea that there are almost always a number of ways - not just one way - to solve any problem.


I welcome comments, questions and suggestions from you. I invite you to stay connected! What are your feelings about Steven Slater? Go ahead and try the anger exercise and let me know how it works for you. Remember, love and good feelings are plentiful yet elusive; I'll be around to help you locate and develop them in the Middle Ground.

 

Marty Babits is Co-Director of Family and Couples Treatment Service, a division of the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy in New York City.

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