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Complaining or Compassion? You Cannot Have Both at Once!

I recently boarded a small regional jet on which every seat was taken. As I walked down the aisle, I was dismayed to see that the man seated in seat #7A was so large that he also occupied part of seat #7B. My seat.

At one time, I would have spent the entire flight mentally writing a letter to the airline’s CEO. “How dare you inconvenience me by only giving me three-quarters of a seat when I paid for a whole seat!”

But it wouldn’t have ended when I got off the plane. On the drive home from the airport I would have been mentally editing my letter. “Not inconvenienced… Burdened, that’s it. How dare you burden me by only giving me three-quarters of a seat.”

But now, before I even sat down, I repeated The Pickle Pledge to myself: I will turn every complaint into either a blessing or a constructive suggestion. I silently repeated it as I tried to find the buried half of my seat belt.

As I always do, I asked where he was going. He told me, then said “These planes are getting smaller all the time.”

Now, I have been flying that exact same airplane for 30+ years and I know for a fact that it is not shrinking. But rather than blurt out some inanely insulting comment, I put The Pickle Pledge to work.


I will turn every complaint into a blessing…

I nodded in agreement and said, “Yeah, but it still beats sitting on a wooden bench on a Conestoga wagon.”


… or a constructive suggestion.

After a bit more small talk I pulled out my noise-canceling headphones and a good book. And when I got off the plane, I mentally left the fact that I’d had to share my seat with a supersized stranger behind on the plane.


But his words kept coming back to me: These planes are getting smaller all the time.

It dawned on me that’s not what he really was saying. I think he was saying something more like this: You have no idea how painful it is to be me in a situation like this.

It was heartbreaking. He was right. I really did have no idea how painful it would have been to be stuck in a seat like that. Nor did I have any idea how many times the person sitting next to him had made a scene about it. And I said a little prayer of gratitude for having kept my mouth shut.

At that moment I realized that The Pickle Pledge and The Pickle Challenge for Charity (PicklePledge.com) are about more than just having a better attitude at the personal level and a more positive culture at the organizational level, as important as those things are.

It is also about compassion. You see, you cannot be compassionate when you are complaining – even if you’re not expressing that complaint out loud. Complaining is always inner directed, always about me. Why am I being so inconvenienced, why am I being so burdened.

Compassion is always outer directed, always about the other. If I’m uncomfortable with this seating situation, imagine how miserable this other guy must feel.

You can be in complaining mode or you can be in compassion mode, but you cannot be in both emotional spaces at the same time.

Making The Pickle Pledge a part of your personal DNA will make you a kinder and more compassionate person. Making The Pickle Challenge a part of your organization’s cultural DNA will make it a kinder and more compassionate place to work.

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