Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Jet Blue Flight Attendant's Big Moment vs. Boundaries and Moderation?

The Jet Blue Flight Attendant and His Fifteen Minutes of Fame

We all love big moments where the underdog tells the perpetrator off, and tells them off in a big way. In the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” or when an exhausted and disgusted Rhett Butler tells Scarlett O’Hara “Frankly, my darling, I don’t give a damn.” And yes, when Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant went postal, and told the rude customer (and entire plane) off once and for all. He then grabbed some beer, inflated the inflatable slide (those things really inflate?) and made his dramatic exit. Now, he will likely lose his profession and have some pretty significant legal problems, but he has become something of a hero to the average American.

Okay, I understand the wish for the big moment. But, there might be a more moderate way to express oneself and get ones needs met. My guess is that Mr. Slater enjoyed his work as a flight attendant and just wanted to be respected and appreciated for his hard work. When he was faced with entitlement, hostility, and aggression from an unappreciative passenger, it was the last straw.

We all have close intimate relationships where the principle of moderation is necessary and appropriate. (I’ll write about that later). It also applies to workplace relationships with colleagues or the public. Face it; we are all in some kind of service industry. We are all selling something. Therefore, we have to negotiate those little relationship dilemmas of everyday life, including a minor but hostile attack with a suitcase from a tired and irritable passenger. In Slater’s case, a customer, who, paid his salary.

I use the metaphor of a pressure cooker. Life is intense, the pressure is always building. We need to have that little escape valve, so the pressure is being released in a slow and steady way. And when the pressure gets stuck, the pot blows up. (I am remembering an ugly image of peaches splashed all over the walls when the pressure release valve got stuck).

To navigate the ups and downs of the daily pressure cooker, I recommend approaching relationships as a practice, something you do a little at a time, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. Part of relationship practice is working your boundaries. Boundaries enable us to be safe in relationships. We have a protective boundary, which is like an imaginary shield. If an unwarranted insult comes our way, we have this boundary in place, and the insult just bounces off. We give it no power. We also need a containing boundary. This is something like a wetsuit that holds in the emotions until we can process them and let them pass. The containing boundary keeps us from being offensive.

To function effectively in relationships, we all need protective and containing boundaries. They help us to live moderately. Mr. Slater seems to have had a broken pressure release valve. Now he has the media spotlight, but he also has a big nasty mess of blown up peaches that will surely outlast his fifteen minutes of fame. Moderate relational living with healthy, clear protective and containing boundaries will not likely get you national media attention, like Mr. Slater got. But face it, how many of the “big moments” where we tell them off, get us the attention we really want? They usually leave us alone, lonely, and sometimes unemployed.


  1. What happens if we need a "big moment" just to get someone to listen to us? In other words, can I use a big moment to get my needs met? Sometimes I don't know any other way to get a certain person's attention.

  2. This guy's "big moment" cost the airlines $75,000 for the blown slide. Surely there's a better way to handle the pressure cooker.