A pilot on a Westjet flight, Captain Carey Steacey, got a friendly note from a passenger, David, in seat 12E. Of course he didn’t confront her directly, he scribbled this note on a napkin and left it for the crew to find after he left the plane.
At first I thought, what a dumbass…and then I remembered something.
A couple of years ago, I was on a little puddlejumper flight — an itty bitty prop-driven plane with maybe 10 or 12 seats. I was looking across the field and saw two crew people walking towards us. One was a rugged big guy, clean-shaven but with a manly 5 o’clock shadow, and the other was a petite Asian woman. I didn’t think anything of it, but I was literally startled when once they got on the plane, the woman sat down in the captain’s chair and started doing all that pre-flight switch-flipping, while the man made himself busy in the galley, fussing with trays. I was pleasantly surprised, but still…I was on that plane with a fine cargo of stereotypes in my head.
I think the difference between me and David isn’t that I’m some deeply, intrinsically egalitarian liberal with no biases at all, but that when the world rises up and breaks the model of it in your head, some of us are tickled by the experience and are happy to revise our models. Others are annoyed and offended at the defiance of their sacred preconceptions and want to insist that the world cohere to them. And then their brains just drift farther and farther from reality, step by step, until you get David, who wants to get off a plane when the crew doesn’t look like his mental image of a proper flight crew.
And his model isn’t even a bad approximation of reality: WestJet has 1,118 men flying their airplanes, and only 58 women. David just fails on the inflexible vs. adaptable parameter of his brain. And unfortunately we live in a culture where religion is a vehicle for promoting inflexibility, in an era where we need to adapt.