Monday, December 2, 2013

Elan Gayle - Diane Thanksgiving Flight Twitter Feud

The 2013 Thanksgiving delayed flight to Phoenix war between Elan Gayle and Diane in Seat 7A went viral because Gayle live tweeted his aggressive disapproval of Diane’s self-centered attitude.  According to Gayle, “She's telling the flight attendants that it is Thanksgiving. She wants them to know she wants to have dinner with her family. The male flight attendant said 'I understand ma'am. I'm looking forward to seeing my family too.' She responded 'this isn't about you.”

Our flight is delayed. A woman on here is very upset because she has Thanksgiving plans. She is the only one obviously. Praying for her

When the plane landed, Gayle waited for Diane to get off the plane so he could make sure she knew he had broadcast their feud on twitter.  Diane slapped him in the face.  For a description of the lengthy and unfortunate encounter during the flight including Gayle sending Diane unwanted vodka and wine and vulgar notes, a representative news article can be found at the following link:

After Thanksgiving, Gayle published a blog explaining that it was important for him to make the point that one should not mistreat service workers. 

“I don’t care what’s going on with you:  Don’t be rude to people who are doing their job…Don’t act like they are less than you.  Don’t abuse them just because you’re the customer and ‘The Customer Is Always Right.”

Gayle ends his blog with: “And it’s OUR job to tell every Diane to shut up.” (

Another blog post claiming to be written by Diane’s cousin surfaced with the revelation that Diane has Stage IV small cell carcinoma of the lung:

“Diane hasn’t been handling her imminent death very well, but she really was looking forward to being with us and the rest of her family – all of whom were flying in for one last Thanksgiving with her.” (

Response to the whole affair includes many applauding Gayle and others bemoaning his shaming of Diane via social media tools.  Some have even speculated that the entire encounter is likely a hoax and never happened.

A column in Salon made what I think is the key observation:

“Real or no, the “Diane” story is designed to play on the very worst of human nature: the part that knows that one’s own behavior is sacrosanct and it’s everyone else that’s the problem.”

The Elan/Diane feud would have been avoided if they had taken David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement address advice:

“Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of:  Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

The commencement address provides many stories and examples to bolster Wallace’s argument against all of our self-centered “default-settings” that lead to behavior like that experienced on the airplane flight to Phoenix.  Wallace advises the graduates to embrace a special kind of freedom to consciously choose to empathize with the people we encounter every day.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

Wallace’s suggestions parallel the findings of social scientists who study meaning in human lives.  Investigators find that a defining feature of meaning “is connection to something bigger than the self.” 

“People who lead meaningful lives feel connected to others, to work, to a life purpose, and to the world itself.  Those who reported having a meaningful life saw themselves as more other-oriented.”

Elan and Diane could also have benefited from
John Dewey’s thoughts about moral imagination, which includes “the capacity to concretely perceive what is before us in light of what could be.”

Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe’s book Practical Wisdom describes how Luke, a janitor in a midwestern hospital, approached a tense situation with the father of a man who was in a coma.  Upon meeting the father in the hallway after cleaning the patient’s room, the father angrily accused Luke of not doing his job.  Luke had to choose between supporting several different positive ideals, which in this specific situation clashed.

Be honest: I cleaned the room already
Be courageous:  Stand up for one’s own dignity
Be fair:  Room has already been clean
Be kind:  Clean the room again so father could observe the activity

Luke choose how to frame the issue taking into account the job he had created for himself to support the hospital as a place to be compassionate and kind and help healing.  He did not frame his action in terms of honesty, courage, justice or his personal rights. Luke decided to defuse the situation and clean the hospital room for a second time so the father could observe for himself that his comatose son’s room was clean.

All of us encounter situations like the Elan/Diane feud where we get on each other’s nerves.  David Foster Wallace, John Dewey, Barry Schwartz, and Kenneth Sharpe provide us with tools to make better choices than our two now famous Thanksgiving travelers.