Last week I wrote an open letter to a “friend” in Clarksville Tennessee. If you missed that post you can see it by clicking here. In that post, I wrote about a guy I came across recently who totally lacked self-awareness.
I have a confession to make.
In less than a week, I became like that same guy. Not at all proud of it. But it did happen. Here is the story:
My wife and I were flying home from a wonderful Memorial Day weekend in Columbus Ohio. We were able to spend the weekend with our granddaughter, who, just for the record, is perfect in every way. My son dropped us off at the airport, we checked our bags and headed to the TSA screening area. I often say in the classes that I teach that the best place to observe what poor emotional intelligence looks like is in an airport.
I put my backpack on the conveyor belt to be screened like I do several times a week, almost every week. In my pack, I have a couple of books, my laptop, business cards--nothing unusual.
The agent at the computer looks into my bag, shouting, "Whose black bag is this?” I look over and my backpack has been rerouted for physical inspection. I hear the agent tell one of his partners, “There is liquid in that bag." I thought to myself, “There is no liquid in that bag. I don’t carry liquids.”
A bit puzzled, I walk over with the agent to his station. He takes a black stick and rubs it over the outside of my bag and then on the inside. I am thinking, oh, this is just a routine screen for gunpowder or drugs or whatever it is that TSA uses that little black stick for. The agent asks me, “Do you have anything sharp in this bag?” Again, pretty routine. I say, “no."
So he opens the bag, reaches in and pulls out a jar of peanut butter. I remembered that as we were on our way out the door this morning my wife asked me to put the jar in our suitcase. I stuck it in my backpack, thinking, no big deal people take peanut butter on planes all the time. Since 50% of my flights are to Orlando, I see kids at the airport quite often; they eat PB&J all the time.
The agent then said to me, “This is a liquid and you will have to take it out and either check it or throw it away.”
This is the point when I became like my friend in Clarksville.
I instantly reacted to the TSA agent by saying, “Peanut butter is not a liquid, it's a solid!" I feel pretty confident I am right about this. My reasoning is:
- Mr. Volosio, my 8th-grade chemistry teacher, was excellent and taught us the difference between solids, liquids, and gasses. I paid really close attention in that class and am reasonably sure I grasped the concept.
- My Inorganic Chemistry class took Mr. Volosio’s lesson even further and I passed that class too.
And if those aren’t enough then I ask you this: when is the last time you sat down to have an ice cold, refreshing glass of peanut butter?
The next thing I hear is, “Peanut butter is considered a liquid and you can check it or throw it away." So my statement and all of my logic are being challenged and I can feel myself triggering, which is where this story differs from the one about my friend in Clarksville.
I recognized my trigger. I stop, take a deep breath, and ask the agent just to go ahead and dispose of the peanut butter. I guess some of my training in emotional intelligence kicked in, and my mind told me to not let my emotion get the best of me. There is no way I am going to win an argument with a TSA agent who is convinced that peanut butter is a liquid. Not because he is right, but because he has the power.
In that moment I had to decide if it was more important for me to be right than to end up on a no-fly list. I decided it was much more important to fly again and so the peanut butter went into the trash and my wife and I went and had a bite to eat at the Chili’s restaurant in the airport....where I sat down and ordered a tall glass of peanut butter on the rocks with extra ice.
The waitress just looked at me with a puzzled look. I said,“Didn’t you know that peanut butter is a liquid, and so could you pour me a glass?"
My wife said to the poor girl, who was just there trying to make a living, “Just ignore him, he just got his feelings hurt. We will both have water with lemon.” The waitress left with our drink order, and my wife said, “I thought you taught emotional intelligence, you're not showing any right now.” The truth hurts!
Embarrassed, I looked at her and said, “You're right. That waitress probably didn’t have Mr. Volosio for Chemistry so she might not know the difference between a liquid and a solid.”
I can’t tell you my wife's response to that. Sometimes what happens in a marriage, stays in a marriage.
So, a trigger for me is when I know I am right and what I perceive to be an injustice occurs.
How about you? Do you know your triggers? Are you aware of what sets you off? Can you control your emotion, or does your emotion get the best of you and you end up making poor decisions because of some strong need you have to be right, or be heard, or be seen?
Having good emotional intelligence requires both self-awareness and self-management.
Having good character is knowing when you are wrong and being able to apologize. I did. To my wife, the waitress, and the TSA agent.
PS. The next time you are in Orlando, send me an email because my wife and I would love to have you over to our house for an ice cold glass of…. your favorite liquid beverage.