Living in our social media driven, information at our fingertips society, I find it easy to get desensitized to the things, often atrocious, that jump across my cell phone’s surface. Last night though, I got enraged. To recap, a flight was oversold, one of the men who was chosen to deplane didn’t, and subsequently, a dispute involving the Chicago Aviation police ensued, and enter the videos the next day of an older gentleman being dragged off the plane. In the last 24 hours, we’ve learned the name of the United CEO, Oscar Munoz (did anybody know his name before Sunday? I didn’t think so) and that the man on the plane is a physician, grandfather, and most recently involved in some shady business. We’ve learned about legality in the airline world. That airline’s employees have precedent over paying customers. What I haven’t learned, is how on earth did something so commonplace (anyone who has flown has had to deal with overbooked flights,) become an overnight media firestorm.
I started thinking about power. In my mind, this isn’t about race, this isn’t about the man’s profession, this isn’t about who bought the last airline ticket. It’s simply put, a gross misuse of power. In any life situation, there’s the party in power, and the party that is dependent. When I go to a restaurant, it doesn’t matter who I am or how much money I make, or how many babies I delivered that week. The hostess holds the power to seat me when and where she sees fit. Or even worse, at the crowded bar on a Saturday night, we are all at the mercy of the bartender.
In this situation the airline staff and the Chicago Aviation police are in power.
The airline staff had the power to increase the monetary voucher value. They could have made other arrangements for their own employees trying to fly. They could have worked with the passenger to get him back to Kentucky in time for whatever he needed to do the next day. Instead, they called in the police. I wasn’t there, and I recognize that I can’t fully appreciate the environment or situation, but the video shows 3 men hovering over an airline seat, and then you can hear this guttural noise from what I imagine was the passenger getting tasered. I cannot fathom how a verbal dispute escalated into something physical and so terrible, without there being a misuse of power.
It hits a nerve with me anytime power is abused. When I’m sitting at a traffic light and I see red and blue lights and sirens behind me, and the cop car blows through the intersection and then the lights go off? That gets me like no other. When I was told at the gym by the person challenging my dues owed that “ you are speaking to the assistant manager so I know what I’m talking about and you owe $8”, it’s like, ok I get it, you don’t need to throw around your title to get the money. I’m good for it. I swear.
It irks me, because especially as a physician, I recognize that I’m in a position of subjective power at the office or the hospital. I am extremely conscious not to abuse this power. I try to create an environment of equality and respect, open dialogue with women to address their concerns. When did these lessons get lost on the general population? Do we need to implement general respect classes in school? I imagine the lesson plan to be something like “When at work, remember not to be a jerk.” (It’s fine United, you can steal it as your new mission statement). Although it’s so important to treat people with equality at all times, it becomes even more crucial when you are the one with the subjective power. These stories are avoidable and disgusting. I will continue to do my part not to abuse power, and I hope the rest of the world can as well. Be well.