The Union Recorder

June 10, 2013

COLUMN: So, did you learn anything?

Mike Rowland
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Did you see the media reports this past week where 100 high school students traveling from New York to Atlanta were removed from the plane because they were acting like a bunch of buffoons? It seems as if the teenagers, all seniors from a high school in Brooklyn, were ordered off the flight around 6 a.m. as it sat at a gate at LaGuardia Airport.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that AirTran’s parent company, Southwest Airlines, issued a statement indicating the flight attendants asked the young passengers several times to take their seats and put away their mobile devices.

Apparently, when some students wouldn’t comply, they ordered them to disembark for safety reasons, according to an airline spokesperson. The airline eventually put the students on other planes and delivered them to their destination, albeit in some cases 12 hours later than their planned arrival.

Ok — I know what some of you are thinking. They are just kids, and the airline overreacted. Hold onto that thought. I will come back to it.

I am the proud father of two sons. They are grown now and well on their way to having families of their own. Both are married, gainfully employed, and facing the challenges of everyday living just like I did.

Their rent comes due on the first of the month, the power company will turn off their lights if they don’t pay their bill, and the cities where they live are licking their chops at the hope that the water bill is late so that the municipality can cut off their water and charge an exorbitant fee to turn it back on.

They each have vehicles that require them to register in the respective state within which they live; they must pay their insurance premium on time, and they must fill out a tax return annually by April 15.    They each hold positions of responsibility that require them to act like somebody.

Speaking of acting like somebody, I really only had one requirement of my sons as they progressed from infancy through adolescence and into adulthood: represent the family well. Mind you, that lesson was not easily taught, and we had our stumbling blocks and obstacles.

In fact, I could write a book on all of the mistakes they made as children and even the ones I made as their dad. We each did a lot of bone-headed things on our journey through the growing up years.

Ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you. The one question they all hate to hear me utter is “Did you learn anything?” I usually say it with a slight tone of condescension just to be sure they haven’t mistaken my sarcasm for empathy.

It works every time.

Now back to our young, enthusiastic, mobile device toting mavericks. Kudos to the airline for doing just exactly what it should have done. Ask for compliance once; even do so a second time. But, when that fails to achieve the desired result, follow through with a consequence that is logical.

Look — it may be hard to believe, but I was young once myself. I remember what it was like to act like a total knucklehead. What I also learned is that there is not one person on this planet that can insulate me from the product of my bad decisions.

Forget to pay your bills on time and you pay a late fee. If your luck is like mine, they cut off your power. You really don’t have to abide by the speed limit; but if you don’t, and you get caught, then you pay a fine. We have all learned that one the hard way. If you work for someone, and the boss says “do” and you “don’t”, then that is OK. You just get fired. Don’t pay your taxes on time? The IRS doesn’t care. They will find you, fine you, and make you pay them anyway … OK, bad example, but you get my drift.

Part of what is wrong with this country today is that we have somehow convinced ourselves that we have rights that don’t exist. Some argue that high school seniors have a right to disregard rules and authority. You may find this difficult to believe, but I agree.

The airline has a right to refuse to allow those same individuals to travel on their plane, too. See there, the world works just like it is supposed to. The biggest disservice we do for our young people is to somehow teach them that they can in some way get a do-over in the world of first choice behaviors. The truth of the matter is that there are rarely such do-overs.

Oh, and one other thing. My suspicion is that not all of the students who were removed from that plane failed to comply with the orders of the pilot and the flight crew. In that case, it is perfectly legitimate for the parents of those students to side with their offspring. The fact is they should not have been inconvenienced because some of their friends couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the rules. The best thing those parents can do, however, is teach their children how to get shafted with graceful humility. It won’t be the last time.

But then that is a real life lesson, too. Sometimes the innocent suffer because of the antics of a few, and there is really nothing that can be done about it. And even if there was, a little bit of unfairness in one’s life never hurt. As for the guilty parties, they should count their blessings. The consequences for buffoonery get more severe as one grows older. And the real question to be answered is “Did you learn anything?”