Flying Out of Our Comfort Zones
If you want a test in emunah, just book a flight. Nothing you do can prepare you for the endless lines, delays, cancellations and panic attacks that flying offers. From the time you book the cab to get to the airport until the moment you get your bag at the carousel, it is one long stress-inducing rollercoaster.
But all of this stress and emotion is just the pre-game. When you finally get on the airplane and squeeze into your seat, usually between two strangers, the age-old question suddenly pops into your head: Will I talk to the people next to me or will I stay quiet the entire flight? Or maybe even worse, will they talk to me and force me into a never ending conversation that only the hitherto ignored, emergency landing video can put to a stop?
Yet upon further thinking, those initial questions seem quite absurd. How is it that three people are forced to sit so close to each other that they can smell each other’s sweat for hours, yet will never even introduce themselves or ask what their name is? Each with their own life, family, profession and story, but each one remains as silent as the next, waiting for the announcement to fasten their seatbelt for the descent into their arriving airport.
What is it that stops us from being friendly and inquiring about the people we wouldn’t have met or talked to in a million years? Are we afraid to break out of our comfort zone and learn about someone else’s life? How could it be that humans are described as social animals according to philosophers like Aristotle, and we magically break down into a shell of ourselves and have no problem becoming silent to the people next to us for several hours? What does it say about the person that does talk to their seat-buddy? Does it perhaps signal that they are too friendly or even slightly creepy for going out of their way and showing interest in their neighbors' personal life?
I always adhered to the idea expressed by Natalie B. Compton in a Washington Post article titled “The Unofficial Rules for Talking on Planes,” where she argued that greeting your seatmates at the start of a flight is proper courtesy, with anything past that remaining optional. I always adhered to those standards, so it wasn’t until I was on a flight with another YU student and he started chatting up our seatmate that my perspective changed for the better.
We met a fellow New Yorker named Mike who had just started Columbia Law School and spoke with him briefly about our school and the dual curriculum that is offered at YU. I thought the conversation would end at that, and I would be permitted (by social standards) to put in my earphones and watch my movie; however I was very mistaken. Our conversation continued and led us to explore topics including peace in the Middle East, Jewish heritage and the importance of family. I came away from this experience shocked by how much we had in common and with an appreciation for a lifestyle that was unlike my own.
Now I didn’t come away with this ready to exceed all the social conventions expressed by Compton’s article and talk up my neighbor on the next flight I take, but I began to appreciate the power of a simple conversation. While the relationship Mike and I forged on our flight probably will not continue, the moment and the conversations we shared did make a profound impact on me.
As the High Holidays approach us, we begin not only the new calendar year but the new school year. With every new year, YU receives a fresh young class of freshmen and sophomores, usually continuing their religious journeys that started in Israel. Some students come in with a yeshiva friend group while others are trying to get away from it, but all of them are sprung into a new world with limitless possibilities and a myriad of responsibilities. While many will seem unfazed and closed off, entering a new place with this much pressure is daunting and can break you down without the right guidance and mentors. While I am not expecting current students to be always checking in of the newcomers, for someone who is even remotely struggling to adjust, it goes a long way when you know that someone is there thinking about you.
So, I challenge everyone to go out of their comfort zone and strike up conversations with FTOC’s and other students they don’t know in school. Although our preexisting friend groups could be great and don’t require much extra social attention, the new relationships you are missing out on are enormous. Granted, you don’t need to be the chatter on the plane, but don’t let that stop you from going outside your bubble to meet new people because, who knows, the next small conversation you have might be life changing.
Photo Caption: Speaking to people on planes serves as a microcosm for what we should work on this year.
Photo Credit: Unsplash