The Old Man on the Plane

19th May 2022

 

 

As I write this, I’m on a flight from Queenstown to Auckland. As I sit here, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness a beautiful exchange that I think is worth sharing with you.

 

 

Sitting across the aisle from me is a woman who was, at the start of the flight, clearly afraid to fly. As she took her seat, visibly shaking, she explained to the flight attendant that she never used to be fearful, but something had happened over the past two years and here she was, facing down a demon in her mind. She was speaking a million miles an hour with tears running down her face.

 

 

Sitting next to her is an old man. As she began to apologise for her state, he closed his laptop, looked at her and immediately reassured her “it’s normal.” He then began a conversation with her. For the first part of the conversation, he just asked her questions, listened to her story, and found points of connection between them. Eventually, she began to ask him questions, hear his story, and find new points of connection.

 

 

45 minutes into the flight, their conversation is still going strong.  She’s visibly changed. She’s laughing. Like, really belly-laughing. She’s slowed down her speech. She’s making eye contact with him. She’s calmer, and she’s breathing out.

 

 

I love the gift this old man has given her. In his own way, he’s helped her transcend her demons. At least for this moment in time.

 

 

What I see is a man who demonstrates the qualities of manaakitanga: the Maori idea of lifting someone up and bringing out their best. Here’s how I see this man showing manaakitanga in this situation:

 

  1. The ability to see: he’s noticed her disquiet and sees what she needs
  2. The capacity to give: he has the time, and the heart, to give to her
  3. The willingness to give: he’s decided to give his full attention to her

 

 

 

This random act of kindness, this act of humanity, gives me heart. In a world where so many of us are tired, bruised and perhaps a little lost, acting with manaakitanga allows us to unlock the possibilities that exist. It can diminish the fears that keep us stuck, and it can harness a powerful generative force that keeps us moving forward. 

 

 

 

Showing someone that you see them is the greatest gift you can give.

 

 

If we allow our hurried, task-focused minds to dominate in our moments of choice, we miss the opportunity to practice manaakitanga. We miss the opportunity to bring out the best in others.

 

 

And what is leadership, if not to do that?

 

 

So, see if you can look for opportunities today to close your metaphorical (or actual) laptop, and find a way to lift someone up.