I am fascinated by people. On my flights home on Thursday afternoon and eve I found myself marveling in the types of information folks will share with total strangers on a plane. Not that I was sharing – I was actually trying to nap, but interwoven in that effort was a bit of casual eavesdropping of conversations that wafted audibly toward me.
I used to be one who would more readily engage in airplane chatter but any more I view that time as valuable for doing things I have not been able to get to prior to the flight, be it work or sleep. I have met some fascinating folks and have heard some incredible life stories on planes in the past and absolutely understand the interest in other folks’ lives.
Interestingly, as a casual eavesdropper I was able to focus more on the interplay within these conversations and the level of investment each party was willing to make. I have heard over the years as a party to conversations about lots of general topics such as relationships (great, troubled and in-between); accomplishments and setbacks; likes and dislikes; and, strengths and fears. I have also learned about topics that I would have otherwise had no inkling about such as the challenges in running a junk yard; the life of an Air Marshall; the angst of losing a child; supposedly secret military operations; how to decorate your home so you are most productive; the art of cooking for large groups; using exotic dancing as a fitness regimen; how to cheat in online educational programs; the challenges of running a country’s emergency management program; what it is like to lose a beloved spouse unexpectedly and the reaffirmation of later learning that love can come around again; and so on and so forth…yes, I have learned much information from these conversations.
What I did not learn though from those conversations as a participant was the give and take that occurred within the dialogue between the participants. It was the outside observer position that allowed me to reflect on these conversations from a whole new perspective. I must say, the willingness and ease with which folks share fairly personal and significant information about themselves and their lives was a tad shocking. Are we the same society that often does not even know their neighbors well? You wouldn’t know that on the plane. On the plane the old curmudgeon neighbor is now waxing poetic about his love of World War II planes to a young soldier who is heading home for his first visit home since entering the service.
I wonder if all this sharing is a function of the close proximity in a plane. As those seats get closer and closer together they may be spurring more conversations. It makes sense that you might share some personal information with a seatmate to make the whole experience of personal space intrusion seem less uncomfortable and more tolerable.
Perhaps it is a function of boredom or just plain old curiosity. There really are a limited number of things you can do in that confined space and there certainly is an interesting level of diversity on most flights. Plus, there are so many stories of where folks are going to or coming from and why. Are they traveling on business, did they win an award, is someone sick, is someone getting married, did they just return from a honeymoon…the list of reasons for flying to or from somewhere on a plane are endless.
I wonder if it isn’t maybe a bit more basic than all of the above though. Could it be that all these conversations are a byproduct of what we know to be so important to human beings – the ability to connect to other human beings? Are these brief interludes on planes merely a restatement and reaffirmation of our humanness? Is it the sharing of the similarities and differences in our lives that cements the value in our connectivity and our uniqueness? Is this really casual conversation that happens as isolated incidents here and there out of curiosity or kindness or boredom, or is it a necessity of humanity as we know it? Perhaps it is a bit of both.
I can tell you from where I sit (and also from where I sat on the plane) that it is comforting to know that folks are so willing to share of themselves and their experiences with others (even if it may seem like it is a bit personal to others). These little connections make a difference in the way we view and deal with others and collectively it makes us a better species. Next time when you fly and are not visiting with a seatmate take a moment and listen to the voices around you and realize that in that chatter is the evidence of the thread that runs through all of us – our connectivity to other human beings – our collective humanness. Plus, you may learn how to use exotic dancing as a fitness regimen – it’s all good.
Day ninety-seven of the new forty – obla di obla da