I was waiting for my luggage at the Oakland Airport yesterday when I noticed a woman yelling at a man who was about in his late fifties. She was furious. She came at him like she was going to hit him. But just as she did, a young man grabbed her and held her back. He took her back to her luggage and her young child about 25 feet away, then went back to the man she had been trying to attack. I didn’t hear what he said, but the older man calmly said, “Are you going to hit me?” He didn’t seem afraid. He more seemed like if the guy hit him, it would prove him right. The young man just walked away.
A few minutes later I asked the older man what had happened. He said quit calmly and with great confidence that the woman’s child (who looked to be about 2) was crying during the whole flight. He said he told her that she shouldn’t fly with a child who couldn’t remain calm.
I was shocked. I told him that I was a clinical psychologist and that I thought that was an enormously cruel thing to say and that he should apologize to her. He calmly reasserted that she shouldn’t fly with a child who cried. He was so sure of himself. I told him that he had really added to the mother’s stress. But he was unmoved.
I later found out from another couple who had been trying to comfort the woman—who continued to cry—that the woman had been taken off the airplane in a wheel chair.
Later I found myself wanting to say to the guy, “Maybe she was coming to her dying mother who had never seen the grandchild. Maybe she was bringing the child for treatment of cancer. Maybe the child had flown before without any problem.”
What was so striking to me in this cruel act was the man’s absolute confidence that he was right. I suspect that being right is very important to him.
I have no idea how a bystander could do anything other than comfort the woman. (I went over to her and told her that she had my sympathy and that I had told the guy that what he did was really cruel.)
What could you say to this guy that might deter his behavior?