By now, virtually everyone has seen the video of Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after he was one of four passengers randomly chosen to give up their seats on the overbooked flight so that several flight attendants could be transported back to Louisville, KY. More than enough people have already debated whether Dr. Dao was right in refusing to leave the plane or if it was proper for the airline to have security remove him. As unfortunate as the incident was, what struck me most was that tensions escalated so high, and yet most people on that plane didn’t realize they had the power to prevent it.
Camera Phone Culture Leaves Us Disempowered and Deactivated
It seems sad, but not surprising, that instead of standing up and offering their seat to one of the flight attendants so Dr. Dao could stay on the plane, hundreds of people remained seated and watched the unfortunate scene unfold. Worse yet, many of them took out their phones to film the altercation instead of empowering themselves to remedy it. I suppose that’s the voyeuristic and narcissistic influence of our camera phone culture that would rather document what’s happening instead of being a part of it. It’s the feeling of temporary importance we get when we share sensationalistic videos online like the ones taken of Dr. Dao saying, “Hey, look what I saw,” instead of telling friends, “Let me tell you what I did.” Unfortunately, camera phone culture leaves us disempowered and deactivated, outside observers to our own lives instead of being active participants in them. It’s a titillating, but largely passive, way of living.
As a society, we’ve missed out on what it means to cultivate human beings who grow up to be agents of peace in the world. Every day we’re presented with opportunities to step forward and introduce a deeper level of loving into a situation instead of creating more conflict. This was the opportunity that was lost on that plane. So the conversation that should really be happening around this event needs to focus on the circumstances under which each of us would be willing to suffer a little bit or even be mildly inconvenienced to put more love into the world by helping another person. The First Noble Truth tells us that to live is to suffer or that experiencing suffering is part of life. So why not take a little more upon ourselves to ease the load of someone else? Sometimes it’s easy, such as when we allow someone to move ahead of us in the grocery store checkout line or let another car take the parking space we wanted. It’s different for everyone, but where do you draw the line on your generosity and for what reasons? What would you be willing to sacrifice for a family member, friend or perfect stranger? A sacrifice is an act of love. The answers might surprise you.
Making Sacrifices With No Expectations
All religions speak of the importance of having love in one’s life, but love isn’t just something we experience in relationships; it’s what we are. It should be infused into everything we do because love is a way of being. When we extend our love to others we’re actually extending part of ourselves to them, and it’s this type of human connection that we seem to have forgotten how to cultivate.
The ancient poet, Hafez, is one of my favorites but in my youth I had trouble understanding the meaning of one of his shortest but most powerful works.
Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.
I finally grasped the meaning after studying cosmobiology a decade ago. The sun burns 40 million tons of itself every second as it gives its light to us. Every form of life on earth couldn’t survive without sunlight, from plankton in the sea to the largest plants and animals on land. Yet, the sun gives of itself so generously, expecting nothing in return. If the sun can make such an enormous self-sacrifice so that we can live, what might we be able to give of ourselves so that someone else could live more easily, even for the moment?
I tell all my patients that regardless of where they are in life, they always have the choice to step into their loving to be an agent of change, of peace. This is the essence of why I founded the nonprofit organization the Love Button Global Movement to inspire people to create moments where they can share their love and generosity with others instead of waiting for them to happen. As unfortunate as the situation with Dr. Dao has been, it seems quite timely as we’ve recently launched the Love Button Global Movement Dandelion Initiative. Volunteers visit major ports of travel in their cities, greeting departing travelers and presenting them with a Love Button and a note, asking them to share love with someone along their journey or at their destination. In this way, every Love Button we send out on a plane, bus, boat or train has the potential to generate love in the farthest corners of the earth. Like the white puff ball of a dandelion whose seeds, carried on the wind, take root in places far from the source, we’re sending our intention across land, sky and sea to take root in the hearts of people everywhere.
Even under the best of circumstances, travel can be stressful, but if we enter into it looking for opportunities to share love, it’s better for everyone. Still, it’s hard to believe that no one on that United Airlines flight stepped forward to be an agent of love in that situation. We’re working to change that. If just one of those passengers understood how powerful it makes a person to step into their loving, the situation wouldn’t have degraded so badly, Dr. Dao wouldn’t have been filmed from five different angles and humiliated on TV and online, and United Airlines wouldn’t be looking at a costly lawsuit. Maybe there is another way.
Changing the Conversation
No, giving up one’s seat on an airplane to a stranger isn’t as cool as having an outrageous video the media is clamoring for and to share with friends, but it’s cultivating a different dynamic that’s slowly creating the kind of world we all want to live in. Instead of filming everything that’s wrong in the world and complaining about it later, how about actively participating in those events to make the world better? Quantum physics tells us that the observer eventually becomes one with what he’s observing. If all we’re looking for is the negative or sensational in life because it titillates us, then we entrain our brains to recognize and expect only those things in the circumstances around us. It becomes habitual and like a locomotive, our brains only move in one direction, expecting and even creating it.
So let’s consider changing the conversation around the Dr. Dao incident. Let’s stop focusing on whether the airline or the passenger made the right choice and instead ask ourselves what choice we could commit to if we found ourselves in a similar situation. Could we play a powerful and active role in our own lives in service of someone else instead of being a passive observer? Can we entrain our minds to a new way of thinking, to recognize opportunities to step into our loving regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in or how someone else is treating us?
Mystic poet, Rumi, famously said, “Out beyond ideas of right doings and wrong doings, there is a field. We will meet you there.” Life isn’t about assigning blame, but taking personal responsibility to make it better for ourselves and others in every moment. We have the power to do just that, and we do it with our love. How much love are you willing to give the next time the opportunity presents itself?