Last week I inadvertently bore witness to a quasi-psychological study involving baggage claim representatives and volatile customers.
Let me start off with some background. Over winter break, my family took a two-week trip to Asia. My brothers and I, all college students, packed our bags with almost everything we brought home for break. When we arrived in Hong Kong, two airline representatives were waiting for us at the gate to deliver the news that three of our six bags did not make it onto the aircraft. They sincerely apologized, gave us $400 of compensation and told us the exact time the following day that the bags would be delivered to our hotel. The way in which the representatives handled it — with courtesy and a calm attitude — ameliorated any frustrations we might have had, and instead left us appreciative of their efforts.
My experience coming back to the U.S. could not have been more different. We arrived in Baltimore on a Saturday night and I was eager to get my bags home, hoping to do my laundry before I returned to Yale the following day. After my luggage failed to appear on the baggage carousel, I waited in a long line to speak to an airline representative. With an unnecessarily rude tone, the representative told me my bag was still in Chicago, where we had connected between Tokyo and Baltimore. Though I was told it would be put on the final flight to Baltimore that night, it didn’t leave Chicago until late in the afternoon the next day. I had to have the bag shipped to New Haven and I didn’t receive it until 11 p.m. that Monday. I was given no explanation, no apology and no reimbursement.
Therein lies my study and, as a prospective psych major, I couldn’t possibly pass up an opportunity to (very rudimentarily) analyze this. Both on the way out and on the way back our bags were lost. But, on the way out we were wholly pacified and on the way back we were incredibly frustrated. The ways in which the airlines handled the mishap framed the experiences for us, either positively or negatively. It was fascinating to see how much power those around us hold in creating the lens through which we view our everyday experiences.
This reminded me of an adage that used to play every morning on my elementary school PA system: “Treat all people as you would like to be treated, with respect, courtesy and consideration.” It is a simple cliché that is often forgotten and makes a world of difference in frustrating situations.
This lesson is made especially relevant during shopping period. We are thrown into a week of indecision and confusion, begging professors for spots in seminars and capped lectures while simultaneously trying to find backup classes that meet at the same time. We can’t even shop those backup classes without risking losing potential spots in our first-choice courses.
Amidst the throes of the two-week period, we seek compassion from professors and are often given very little. I’ve received countless one-sentence notes from professors in response to my three paragraph emails to them, singing their praises and imploring them for a highly coveted spot in their class. It’s not that I can’t handle the rejection; I can and have prepared myself for not getting into their classes. But I would come away from the experience much more positively if the professor tried to soften the blow a little bit, thanking me for my interest and wishing me luck with the rest of my classes. Professors are under no obligation to craft courteous responses — I assume they receive hundreds of these pleading emails daily — but the extra effort would go a long way in soothing the exasperating pandemonium that is shopping period.
The takeaway from this overly simplistic analysis of my pseudo-case is obvious, and one that is instilled in us from a very young age. But, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, it’s never a bad idea to be reminded of the basics. We’ve all been that person whose baggage was lost, or whose spot in a coveted seminar was denied. Just like the polite airline representative, we too have the capacity to frame even negative moments with kind words and an upbeat attitude.
Ally Daniels is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.