On Herds of People



Over 200 people (including me & my family) this morning almost made the news headlines: "American Airlines Flight to Puerto Rico Crashes Due to Failed Engine" is what it would've read. Probably something more concise. But something like that.

We didn't make the news today. Thankfully, we had to get off that failing aircraft before it set out for San Juan. Hundreds of us were on the plane at the Philly airport, ready to reserve chairs on the beach and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D, when the pilot announced that we could not leave the runway in this aircraft because the engine wasn’t working. WELL OOPS! At the time, I was tired, confused, and hungry (when am I not?). It was 9AM, and my family & I had been up since 3:30 -- we said good-bye to our dog, made our flight from Connecticut to Pennsylvania, and now were so excited to get to Puerto Rico for our after-Christmas vacation. This little hiccup in the plan was a frustration, an unforeseen annoyance, and it made me nervous -- would we be getting a new flight? How? Would our trip be cancelled? 

Now, though, I am grateful -- had the crew not discovered the engine’s malfunctions, we may have been airborne in a failing airplane and not have even known…or we would have discovered it only once it was too late.

But anyways.

 After we waited around in the Philadelphia airport for five hours for something to happen, the entire herd of us was lucky enough to be able to get on a new, safe airplane and make our merry way to the islands. All 5 million hundred people were standing in a "line" -- a jumbled herd of flip flops, cowboy hats, island t-shirts, and people with First Class tickets who were mad that they weren't being treated like they were in First Class. The gigantic herd of people pulsed with anxiety and threatened to trample down the kind American Airlines associates who were collecting boarding passes.

Oh yeah. A little word on herds of people.

I hate them.

Oh my goodness…I really do hate them. 

When I am in placed into a herd of homo sapiens, or surrounded by crowds, or waiting in a long line, or waiting to be instructed on what to do (re: the Philly airport earlier today), my typically calm, happy self morphs into an anxious, frazzled, aggressive, stressed, and somewhat angry being. Most often, I try to run away from the mobs. This morning in Philly, as soon as we got off the plane, I sprinted to one of those silver phone booth cubbies, plugged my phone charger in, and dialed the American Airlines reservation phone number to make new arrangements for me and my family.

Am I crazy?

I think that this whole fear of herds that I possess began in the earliest stages of my adulthood (last year), when I studied abroad in Greece for my first semester of college. There were over 200 other Northeastern students in Greece, occupying two hotels in the northern city of Thessaloniki. For every beach trip, historic excursion, and bus ride to school, we travelled in massive herds. MASSIVE. Thinking about the herds now makes me nervous.

Through these gigantic mob adventures in the Mediterranean, I quickly realized that if I didn’t push my way through and work hard to get to the front of any line or crowd, I would be swimming in a sea of people, unable to chart my own way, get what I wanted, breathe, or think properly.

Oops. So that kind of sounds like a metaphor for life…through these herds, I suppose that I truly learned to look out for myself — self advocacy will help me to succeed.

And while that little life lesson is all nice and good, mass travel in Greece made me detest, and be highly anxious in, crowds of human beings. I developed the strict mentality of: "avoid the herd,” "run away from the herd AT ALL COSTS,” "combat the herd,” "push through the herd,” and "GET AWAY from all of the herds ever in life! They are terrifying and no one survives them!".

Unsurprisingly, as I was standing there in our "line" that the 1,567,000 of us had "formed" to board the new plane at Philadelphia International Airport, gate A24, I was trying to cut about 20 people. Because I absolutely, no question, had to avoid the angry herd of Vitamin D-deprived humans. And as I was working my way through the line with my sneaky, nonchalant strategy, suddenly someone's dad said to me, very kindly: "Oh, here, you can go in front of me."

Shocked, I quietly responded, "Thank you", and instantly felt embarrassed. Like, yay! I had just been granted access to cut a bunch of people in line! Did I win something? Nope. Was on my way to assure my seat on the airplane? Yes…but so were all of the people who were now behind me…

I almost forgot to thank the man who had offered to let me go ahead of him. Because really, who makes such a kind offer like that? Oh yeah, that's right. Duh. NICE human beings; people who, in crowded, messy, stressed situations, have the decency, tranquility, and good nature to simply be kind to strangers. And it was this, this simple gesture from someone who's sitting somewhere on this plane right now, someone who I'll never even know, that was enough to make rethink I've ever taught myself about masses of people.

The concept that I had failed to recognize until today is this: we ALL are the masses. We compose those herds, crowds, and lines that I'm afraid of. This world is not any one family's, corporation's, or individual's -- we are all sharing it, benefitting from it, and trying to enjoy it and be happy in it. And the masses are only going to get larger and larger for me as I continue through my adult life and have to deal with more adult chores, like going to the DMV, experiencing the gym and the grocery store at their busiest hours, and waiting with my own family (one day) in a long, annoying airport security line. And these tasks will only become more difficult for me if I do not change my mentality and my methodologies for dealing with crowds. I cannot always run away from them like I do now. There's a more mature, more sensible way to deal with them. And that guy today, who let me board the airplane before him, presented it to me.

It's called being nice.

Maybe, just maybe, if, when in crowded situations, I start to offer gestures of kindness, those herds will become less traumatic, dreadful, and angry-seeming than I make them out to be. I think this could go for the rest of our population, too; what if each of us, in herds of people, dedicated 30 seconds of our time not to persistent frustration, but instead to an act of sincere niceness towards another person? Maybe this is way too idealistic of me, but I have some newfound hope on this matter.  If each of us took less than a minute to give a simple, kind gesture in crowded situations, it would probably make those stressful, annoying experiences much more bearable, and maybe even…do I dare say, a tiny bit enjoyable.