Baggage Handler: What Airport Behavior Says About Us
In January 2008 Jason Barger boarded an airplane in Columbus, Ohio, with a singular objective: to spend the next seven days either on an airplane or in an airport. Think of it as the modern American equivalent of an Aboriginal "walkabout." Instead of spending time in introspection surrounded by the great outdoors, Jason embarked on a "flyabout," seeing what lessons he could learn from going through security lines, sleeping in uncomfortable seats and watching people hump their luggage.
The result of that week jetting to and from the four corners of the United States is "Step Back From the Baggage Claim," a book that isn't actually about stepping back from the baggage claim.
Or, rather, it's about more than stepping back from the baggage claim.
Jason (that's him above) got in touch with me when he heard about my Radical Civility movement. The Radical Civility movement is not a metaphor for anything. It has as its modest aim the elimination of movie texting. If the impulse to be polite should spread to other areas of public life, great. But I'd be happy just to watch "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" in peace.
Jason, on the other hand, wants to change the world.
Though the 33-year-old Ohioan is not an ordained minister, he has something of the minister about him. For 10 years he was the director of a church-run summer camp and helped build homes for poverty-stricken families in Latin America. He sees how we behave on airplanes and at airports as a metaphor for our lives.
"The airport just represents a microcosm of much of the world that we move in and out of every day," he said in an interview. "Using the image of the baggage claim in part, but also other airport images, I wondered: Does that reveal something about our lives away from the airports? Does that tell us something about the way we are choosing to move around the world together?"
For example, why do so many people jump up as soon as the "fasten seat belts" light goes off after the plane lands? Does racing into the aisle really save us that much time? Why, when we enter a TSA security line, do we constantly compare our progress to people in other lines? And what does the scrum at the baggage claim say about us? Wouldn't it be better for everyone if we all just took three steps back and only went forward when we saw our bag?
I don't believe everyone who crowds the conveyer belt is merely a selfish person who doesn't recognize the needs of others. I choose to believe that, in most cases, the mayhem at the conveyer belt occurs because we just aren't thinking about what we're doing. My guess is that the very same person who is aggressively jockeying at the conveyor belt would not only benefit from stepping back from the baggage conveyer belt, but could use a step back in other areas of their life as well. Taking a step back from the conveyer belt is a conscious decision to gain new perspective, include others and see the interests of others as well as your own.
The book is a slim 136 pages. Jason said he wanted people to be able to read it on a two-hour flight. He's sold 5,000 copies. Not bad for a self-published book. As a way of spreading its message, he urges people to leave it behind in airports once they've finished reading it. That can't be very good for his bottom line, I said.
"Yes I do need to earn a living and yes I need to have income," he said. "The point is not about money, the point is about the spirit and the message of the book spreading."
That message? Writes Jason: "Only when we begin to handle the small events of our lives can we begin to address the bigger challenges." Going through the airport in a spirit of compassion and gratitude can help us go through life with a healthier attitude.
I am pretty resistant to inspirational books--and there were places in "Step Back From the Baggage Claim"--where I scribbled "simple" and "corny" in the margins. But in the end Jason won me over. I applaud his effort to change the world one baggage carousel at a time, especially since it overlaps with my humble crusade. For in the end, they both boil down to something pretty simple: Think about other people.
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