The Lone Exception

If you’ve ever wondered whether an iPhone can bring down a plane if left on during takeoff and landing, I have personal proof that it takes more than one. My seat partner on my journey out to E-Tech yesterday felt no urge whatsoever to follow the flight attendant’s instructions and power down his iPhone. I suspect he probably wasn’t the only one, and I have my own suspicions about the validity of such restrictions, but the flight attendant pointedly stopped and asked him to turn it off. He went through the motions, continuing his usage after she moved past our seats. This individual considered himself the lone exception to a standard the the majority had no issue complying with.

For all our recent love affair with group involvement, community-based efforts, and other multi-person action, individuals still consider themselves the exception to certain rules. This belief is two-pronged: on the positive side, there’s the individuals who take a stand against, often alone, the powers that be to accomplish change that benefits the whole; on the negative side, there’s the individuals who believe that their actions needn’t follow the “rules.” I find myself awkwardly straddling this argument because I’m by no means a believer that one should follow the rules “just because.” However, if you choose to participate in society, some of the trade offs do include a willingness to not be the lone exception.

For example, what if I elected to ignore the traffic signals while driving? The people around me have no way of knowing (and then taking safety precautions) that I’ve chosen to not follow the rules until I broadside someone in an intersection. To me, the continued use of the iPhone wasn’t the issue so much as it was the thinking that drove the behavior. Where do we draw the line between acting against community standards and crossing into the dangerous territory of individual behavior negatively impacting the surrounding people?

This question goes back to one of the original ideas behind this blog: how much thought do we give to our actions? Whether it’s the words we speak or the behavior we choose, I believe we don’t give it enough thought. Perhaps we think about what happened afterward, but because of the fast pace many of us take in life, the idea of thinking before acting seems down the priority list a bit. There will always be a place for the lone exceptions of the world, but it stops being lone when everyone believes their behavior is exempt.



19 Responses to “The Lone Exception”

  1. March 4, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I believe he may be the reason I keep a good couple of feet or or so back from the curb and wait quite a bit before crossing certain streets. the behaviour snowballs into other locals.

  2. 2 Britt
    March 4, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    True. It’s not like these individuals walk around with an “LE” on their forehead.

  3. 3 Caleb Chang
    March 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I often quote my father-in-law’s saying “you can’t suck and blow at the same time”.

    When I ask my six-year-old son to do something, he always asks “why?” My answer. “Do what I ask first then I will explain why.” I think the same simple principle applies here. Comply with what is asked to gain respect. Then talk about “why”.

  4. 4 Britt
    March 4, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    @Caleb: Your comment highlights the gap between behavior and thinking. There’s also the underlying principle of respect, which I think becomes less important to individuals when the requested behavior becomes more inconvenient.

  5. March 5, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Who is to blame for this? Starbucks, Burger King, technology, consumerism, Mr. Rogers, marketing. Yes, in the last 20 years we have ingrained in individuals in our society that they are the most important person. They are unique, they can get what they want no matter the logic or the consequences.

    Oh shocking, humans contributed to global warming? How can it be?

    Of course I deserve for you to pay for my healthcare even though I have smoked for 40 years, and Krispe Kremed my way to obesity.

    Wake up America, there is a new day dawning and it just may be raining.

  6. 6 rickwolff
    March 5, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Forgive the nationalism, but while I know it’s just smart to pick your battles (and an airplane isn’t one of them), there’s something refreshingly American about the objector, the square peg who refuses to round off just to fit. We used to have a greater concentration of them, and they were given a wider berth (except on sailing ships, where disobedience to the captain could get you hauled off the side). Sometimes avoiding the tailgater means staying the hell out of the left lane. That’s human nature, especially here in the US. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.

  7. 7 Tim
    March 5, 2008 at 6:14 am

    I believe that above all, one should practice compassion for all living things. If you are threatening the safety and well-being of others, whether you are alone in your actions or part of a group, you should be mindful of your actions and choose another path. If you experience others who are threatening the safety and well-being of others, you should stand up, even if it goes against social norms, polite behavior or laws.

    We are all interdependent and should work towards collective compassion.

  8. 8 Chris Darling
    March 5, 2008 at 6:15 am

    This post set off the common experience of mine when I go to market or as you mention in traffic, Do we have to thwart such behavior with huge penalties as in “Legislating Courtesy”?
    Each and every time I See the person parking in the firelane @ the market Where it is clearly marked NO PARKING. Or the non handicapped parking where the person in the Wheelchair Van has to roam or wait for a place (instead of the able bodied roaming and looking/waiting for a spot).
    (Bear with me here this will make sense)
    In the first no regard for the common safety of the general population and in the later those of us who need those handicapped spaces not by any privilege but by disability. Where the society has deemed for the greater good, the accessability and safety of it’s members are asked to not park in the firelane, and allow those members who need that space with the ramp fold out space his or her access to that same market place. Yet there is always the lone “exception” who “just has to ” NOT Comply .
    So what do we do make it a $1,000. dollar fine to park in the firelane ? @ $2,500 for fraudulently parking in the handicapped space? “Legislating Courtesy” Enforcing it all with technology using undeniable evidence gathering data collection equipment because the “stray dogs” among us refuse to comply for the greater good or those obviously in need?

  9. 9 Theo Veenstra
    March 5, 2008 at 6:25 am

    An interesting subject about much can be said. I always ask these individuals whether or not they expect others to follow the rules. And usually the answer is “yes”, so the rules apply to THEM, not to ME.
    Personally I hold to the principle, treat others (people, society, etc.) the way you would like to be treated. If you reverse the thought, things become much clearer.

  10. 10 suzemuse
    March 5, 2008 at 6:31 am

    You make a great point when you say “How much thought do we give to our actions?”. Many people live in a state of what some spiritual leaders call “compulsive thinking”. This means most of us are continually on a state of “auto-pilot”, not giving any conscious recognition to our thought processes.

    If Mr. L.E. is not conscious of his thought processes and the actions that result from those thoughts, he will not be able to consider the consequences of his actions. He’s just doing it anyway. It’s not so much about whether he’s going to singlehandedly crash the plane, it’s about whether he’s even aware of how it affects everyone else.

  11. March 5, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Nice post. Totally agree. I straddle that fense too though when it comes to being a “team player” and a maverick or innovator.
    When does one cross the line and go against the grain and perhaps contribute something good for all?

    There are many examples where people are just being selfish like your situation on the plane. I am sure that person on the iphone wasn’t doing anything life-saving or earth shattering so they should’ve complied and turned off their device.
    Personally, I have a major issue with redlight runners. It isn’t just one person who believes their time is too valuable to waste waiting at a redlight but several! I mean, it’s gotten to the point where I expect three or four redlight runners every time it changes!
    Anyway, I like what you’re saying here. Great food for thought!

  12. March 5, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Very thoughtful post! And most people don’t give their actions much thought. To be honest, we’re living in a very self-involved aged.

  13. 13 Britt
    March 5, 2008 at 10:10 am

    @Albert: The personalization of our experiences has created an expectation that every experience should be personal and to our liking. At some point, the system will break if the expectation of always getting what we want continues.

    @Rick: I agree. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be the square peg. The reasons for being a square peg, however, are changing. It feels less like taking a stand and more like the over-indulged child who doesn’t like limits.

    @Tim: I suspect we’d have more compassion if we had more patience, but both are in short supply.

    @Chris: Your comment has great timing. This morning I was having a conversation where we discussed the value of using technology to enforce laws vs. the potential privacy issues. To your point of legislating courtesy, I wonder if it would be less necessary if we actually believed in courtesy as a society. Courtesy requires forethought, and going back to my post, I don’t think we’re inclined to a great deal of thought about our actions, so courtesy is often in short supply.

    @Theo: I totally agree. I do my best to take the approach of, “If someone else engaged in this behavior or choice, would I be willing to tolerate it?” If not, it doesn’t same fair that I engage in the same.

    @Suzemuse: What a great insight. I suspect Mr. L.E. didn’t give any thought to the location of his behavior, let alone the implications. I particularly identify with the concept of people working on auto pilot. I can’t claim total innocence on the matter, but it makes for an interesting way of looking at one’s behavior.

    @Paisano: You highlight an issue I I didn’t touch on explicitly, but one that underlies much of this discussion, and it’s the question of time value. We’ve grown to believe that our time is more valuable than the next person’s, thus justifying rude behavior because we’re in a hurry.

    @Corvida: Self-involved is a great definition of the situation. We have a tendency to look inward versus outward, which makes it easier to overlook the consequences of our choices.

  14. March 5, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I used wifi when flying on Lufthansa a couple years ago, and have been waiting for other airlines to provide that same convenience ever since. No luck.

    The fact that we don’t have wifi on most airlines is the issue here, right? Email. Web browsing. Texting. Why won’t airlines innovate and provide travelers with what we already have grown to expect?

    I think your disgruntled copassenger was merely acting out his anger at a lazy, unresponsive industry.

  15. 15 Britt
    March 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    @Jess: You’ve got a valid point that this situation represents an example of the industry not meeting an oft expressed need/desire. However, the bulk of my seat mate’s activity, during the restricted window of time, was spent sorting through pictures of people smoking bongs and listening to loud music. I, too, see a need that isn’t being addressed, but I also wonder why this individual didn’t or couldn’t curtail his activities for the 10-15 minutes required on each end of the flight.

    When/if wireless is made available on the majority of flights, I suspect they’ll still impose a restriction of its use during takeoff and landing.

  16. March 5, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Great post!

    Having lived in England for 3 years, I know that America is very self-oriented. Example: fair-trade items sell MUCH more there than here.

  17. March 27, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    It’s all about making assumptions that we all have to live with. When we’re born, we have no assumptions about anything, and we slowly have to learn them. Over time, we make assumptions about physics, our own physiology, the meanings of words. Imagine what the world would be like if we could not make assumptions about things like gravity, traffic signals? Now, imagine that the pilot of your plane was not able to make assumptions about the instrumentation he relied on to safely fly the vehicle. When individuals don’t honor the assumptions, many are put at risk.

  18. 18 Britt
    March 27, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    @Jim: I agree that assumptions are part of the equation. I wonder, however, how we manage assumptions when they begin to contradict each other. Using your example of the plane pilot, what if his co-pilot trusted his assumption that the instrumentation was sometimes faulty. Whose assumptions do should be trusted? The pilot, who assumes he can trust the instrumentation or the co-pilot who assumes that the instrumentation is faulty?

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