The Elan of Escalation: One-Upping Meanness with Worse Meanness


It was a hoax.

Has everyone seen this?

A woman named Diane getting on a plane behaves like a toddler when she has problems with her flight, berating the ground crew, and this guy named Elan decides to school her by sending her a glass of wine on the plane with a note saying he hopes it’ll make her keep her mouth closed. (Of course, he’s live-Tweeting this whole event. Always want to have good fodder for Twitter, right?)

She sends a note back, he sends a note back, and it ultimately ends with him telling her to, “Eat my dick.”

You reap what you sow, right? Diane deserved it, right? That’s what most people are saying. The blogosphere is atwitter with Elan’s cleverness! Sock it to her, Elan!

I did not take delight in seeing this man cut down this stranger.

As soon as I read that the woman had a face mask on, I thought, Uh-oh.

Sometimes people wear face masks not because they’re sick and don’t want to infect others; they wear them because they have an immune deficiency.

They’ve had a transplant or are waiting for a transplant or they have some other illness in which the common cold will kill them. A comment on Storify (read it on this blog, which has a similar viewpoint to mine) says that Diane is her aunt, and has lung cancer which will soon end her life.

So, does Diane get a free pass?

When I was in college, I worked at JC Penney in the jewelry department during Christmas break (our Christmas break was pretty long, like 3-4 weeks). As everyone knows, people sometimes use service people to unload all their shit. They are convenient and kind of anonymous.

This happened to me one day. A woman in her 50s asked to see a piece of jewelry. I reached into the case and my fingers touched the wrong piece.  “No, you idiot! What’s wrong with you? Why are you so stupid? It’s this one!” she barked. “Oh my God.” She unleashed a torrent of verbal abuse on me.

I looked at her and I wanted very badly to either slap her, call her a bitch, tell her she was a rude bitch, or otherwise crush her. Instead– I’m not sure what possessed me, really– instead, I decided it had nothing to do with me.

I paused and looked at her and took a breath and said, very sincerely, “I’m sorry you seem to be having such a bad day,Ma’am. Is there anything I can help you with? Is there something wrong?”

And the woman looked at me and burst into tears.

She apologized for her tirade. Her father was dying. She’d been at the hospital. She wanted to get this piece of jewelry for her mother.

It wasn’t personal. She had simply broken.

Sometimes people behave badly. But you don’t know their story. Sometimes all they need is a little understanding and compassion. A hand to help them out of the muck.

Have you ever had a terminal disease, or had a relative dying from one? Have you ever been so sleep-deprived that you experience blackouts or memory loss? Have you ever known this would be your last holiday on this earth? Until you do, how can you say what your physical and mental state will be? How can you predict how you’d react?

Yes, this Diane person behaved poorly. The man who harassed her during the flight behaved worse. Unless somebody is doing something that causes a threat to a weaker person, people don’t need to butt in so violently and vehemently.

Would Elan have done this if the woman had been, say, a Navy SEAL in his uniform, and Elan strongly suspected he’d get his ass kicked after he departed the airport? Unlikely. Or a person with an obvious physical disability? Probably not.

Why didn’t he just send the glass of wine with a note that read, “Dear Diane, I hope the rest of your trip is enjoyable and I hope you get to your family’s in time to make the stuffing. Please accept this glass of wine, on me”? Why do you want to ESCALATE when you could easily de-escalate? What will it cost you? Why is it so difficult?

It’s harder to respond with gentleness than with snark when somebody’s being an asshole. And I’m not saying anybody should be a doormat– I’ve certainly called people out for cutting in line or doing other jerky things. I once almost got into a physical fight when a mother kept letting her kid push down my son when he was little. But remember: usually, it’s got nothing to do with you. At all.

For this holiday season, why don’t we all take just a sec to breathe when something like this happens. Ease a retail clerk’s tension with a joke. Offer to help a harried mom with her bags, or hold the door open for somebody with a stroller. Make a funny face at a crying little kid while you’re waiting in line. Smile, even if nobody smiles back. If nothing else, it’ll help your own mood. After you do it once, it’s easier to do again.

And maybe, just maybe, compassion will change someone else’s behavior far more effectively than cruelty.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

5 thoughts on “The Elan of Escalation: One-Upping Meanness with Worse Meanness

  1. Yes, I absolutely agree with you. Great point. However, it takes a lot of self control and strength to act the way you did. It would be my preferred way. As a customer who can sometimes be really rude (for my own personal reasons usually), I know that no reaction makes me feel embarassed and apologoetic than if I provoce an equally rude reaction.

  2. Thank you! I work retail and it can be hell. We are in such a “me” society and going so fast all the time. Taking a minute to breathe, smile, slow down and be nice makes such a difference!

  3. It is strange to read this after reading your comments on the Rebel Heart family. Wonder if you think so, too.

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