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Working-class hero

The traveling public was mildly amused this week when disgruntled flight attendant Steven Slater struck a blow for abused, overworked and underappreciated workers everywhere.
The traveling public was mildly amused this week when disgruntled flight attendant Steven Slater struck a blow for abused, overworked and underappreciated workers everywhere. 

In response to many years of dealing with arrogant, self-centered and disrespectful passengers Mr. Slater used the PA system to cuss out the plane before he grabbed a couple beers and escaped via the emergency inflatable slide.  Bravo Steven.  I hope those beers were icy cold.

When they picked him up at home and marched him away in handcuffs he had a sly, peaceful smile on his face.  It must have been very satisfying after all those years to finally say, “Take This Job and Shove It”.  I hope he had time to finish those beers because as we all know, beverages on planes aren’t free anymore and he will be charged.

For his trouble Mr. Slater has taken on folklore status as a champion of the oppressed masses.  There is a long standing appreciation for the underdogs in our society who mange to fight back and make a bold statement in the process.  A successful attack against injustice by even one person is a tonic for the rest of us.

The closest Canadian equivalent I can recall is the brilliant attack with a cream pie to the face of a totally unsuspecting Jean Chretien.  It was delicious, I am sure, and totally harmless. 

That’s the Canadian way.  Sometimes I think we’re too meek and mild for our own good.

Is our country home to any pent up emotions?  Well, studies have shown that most Canadians have bottled up rage simmering beneath their calm exteriors but the problem is we are too reserved to do anything about it.  I guess if we can survive Air Canada’s customer service nothing can rattle us.

When I heard of Mr. Slater’s caper I immediately thought of the film Network and the now famous line delivered by newscaster Howard Beale, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This might be a good time to revive that mantra.

Peter Finch received an Oscar for this role as he lashed out against the banks going bust, crime in the street and in the boardrooms, air that is unfit to breathe and food that is unfit to eat.  More than 30 years have gone by since that film was made but the feelings of frustration are even more relevant today.

Working people the world over are living with a growing sense of anger due to the many indignities associated with earning a living.  Canadians have long considered themselves to be peaceful, reasonable and thoughtful people but we now know that most of us are living with bottled up rage.

Outbursts such as Mr. Slater’s make for interesting news stories and we all take a little satisfaction from his actions but in this case no real harm was done.  That same level of frustration and rage could have disastrous results in a different situation involving different people.

In the 1990s U.S. hostile postal workers went on a shooting spree of fellow workers, managers and the general public and the term “going postal” was coined.  In actual fact the post office is not the workplace with the highest number of homicides. No. 1 is the retail sector. No. 2 is public administration, including police.

Many modern workplaces create a dangerously dysfunctional work environment.  The general level of civility has declined.  Rapid and unpredictable change is often being managed by unstable leadership.  Destructive, aggressive communication has replaced constructive criticism.

Psychologists are warning us that many workplaces employ frustrated, over- stressed wage earners and when they go postal the results will not always be as amusing as Mr. Slater’s slide to the tarmac.  Sometimes the results can be devastating and they are always unpredictable.

Most working people lead lives of quiet desperation and Canadians are no different. Unfortunately, most of us have to suck it up in order to put food on the table.  When the going gets tough, Canucks get practical.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy but it also tends to fill him with explosive anger and suppressed rage. How will stressed out Canadians handle this emotion?

Steven Slater showed us one way to lighten our emotional load.  We all need to find our personal emergency inflatable slides and jump down.  Who knows how all that nervous energy will express itself?

Maybe that’s why we prefer fighting with our ice hockey.

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