Rx for the world: a dose of understanding

May 8, 2015

dose understandingWhen I read this story about the response of airline passengers to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who did not want to sit next to women on airplanes, my mind was a muddle of conflicting thoughts.

First, you should read the story and all the quotes from various people about the situation. Because I can’t do it justice here and I am going to ask your thoughts.

Then, here’s what ran through my mind:

1. Regarding all the judgments being made about the way these men consider and think of women:

It is absolutely not up to us to force our values and beliefs on to these traditional men. We may not agree with what they believe, but that doesn’t matter a whit. It’s their religion. What matters is that it’s what they believe. And while we wouldn’t choose it, we shouldn’t judge it as wrong.  After all, no one is being harmed. The woman who refused to give up her seat for “politics” made me especially crazy. This is not a political issue, it’s a religious one. How harmful is it? Are a bunch of Hasidic Jews going to change society? I doubt it. Last time I looked, freedom of religion was still a founding pillar of our country.

As a proud feminist, I can hold my political beliefs and also let others have their own religious beliefs as long as no one is harmed.

2. Was there no way these ultra-Orthodox men could contact the airline in advance and explain their issue, instead of holding up boarding and making other passengers move from their own assigned seats? Could airlines make some accommodations? Maybe have a special needs desk to deal with these requests? Yes, it would be going out of their way, something airlines don’t like to do. But how often would that be necessary, really? I’ve never been on plane with a Hasidic man and even if, as the story says, more are flying these days, an arrangement wouldn’t kill airlines.

I’ve been asked more than once to give up a seat so kids could fly with their moms.  Is this any different?

3. If these traditional religious men are going to access the modern world through airplane travel, then the very minimum we should be able to expect is that they do so with courtesy and the same respect for others’ beliefs that they demand for theirs. There is no need to be a jerk about it. Call the airline in advance, alert them to the issue and once at the gate, alert the gate agents. If you are still assigned a seat you are unable to take for religious reasons, then ask nicely for someone to give up their seat, knowing that there is no obligation for them to do so. Airplanes are not gender-specific and if you’re going to fly, you’re going to need to cope with that. Be prepared for the “worst-case scenario.”

This whole scenario cries out for a dose of understanding on both sides. Understanding that not everyone will believe as we do and that doesn’t make them inferior.

But as our society becomes more and more polarized with judgment-filled opinions becoming more and more entrenched, understanding is in short supply.

What a shame.


33 comments on “Rx for the world: a dose of understanding
  1. I especially like your #3. If you’d like the world to bend to you, you should be prepared to also bend.

    Well thought out, Carol.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Yeah I’m sure they could have called the airlines beforehand to arrange seating. I’ve done that before.

  3. I wasn’t aware of this issue. I agree it should be a two way street and the airlines need to put guidelines in place.
    Thanks for the info.

  4. Anita Irlen says:

    Wow, right after posting my post for the day, which is about extremes and backlashes, I read this. I agree with you, but I would maybe change understanding to acceptance? I can’t understand the men’s take on things, but I can accept it. Thanks for the post, thanks for having opinions 🙂


  5. I say up the seat and move on. There are so many more important things to worry about. Either seat is going to be crowded and uncomfortable.

  6. I’m trying Carol, to rethink this story. It’s hard. No one is physically hurt by the beliefs of these men but if I was asked to move, I don’t know if I would. Going to ponder on this for a while. Thanks for providing me with a topic for tonight’s dinner conversation.

  7. Diane says:

    I totally agree with your conclusions, Carol. I feel that the best way to get religious understanding is to give religious understanding. In a spirit of consideration and understanding, I would have moved.

  8. harriet says:

    I am sure they are not the only people who have issues sitting beside someone just because of what they look like or believe in. I am not the one to judge. 🙂

  9. Shonda says:

    This is very new info for me. However, the men could have avoided a spectacle with a little preparation.

  10. Jeanine says:

    While I understand we shouldn’t force our values or beliefs it works both ways. In society I find people want things one way, or no way and it doesn’t work like that. While we may not agree with how others do things it’s life. So both sides should suck it up and move on. This type of thing really bugs me because not everyone has the same values, beliefs etc and it always seems to be forced one way or another. Why can’t things just not involve religion, or “beliefs” and people just go about their day. There would be a lot less to worry about in life. All this said, I wouldn’t move. Sorry but I just wouldn’t.

  11. Interesting post Carol 🙂 Have not heard of this either……not sure if this is right or not? There definately needs to be more understanding, absolutely!

  12. Jennifer says:

    First I’ve heard about this. Yes, they should notify the airlines in advance and give the airline the opportunity to help them out.
    If I was seated in my rightful seat, and a man came aboard who refused to sit next to me for ANY reason, I’d say tough…I am intitled to my rights too.
    A dose of understanding is one thing, a smothering of control is another.

  13. What I don’t understand is, if this religious belief is so important to observe, why they don’t make it known when they book their flight so they can be certain they will be seated next to a man. While I respect their beliefs and their right to practice them, a little planning ahead would go a long way. I think it’s very inconsiderate to hold up a flight because one wants to be seated next to a person of a certain gender.

    I personally hate to fly. I take prescribed drugs just to get on the plane. I plan ahead for a window seat so I can turn toward the window, curl up as best as I can, and go to sleep. If I could be moved to another window seat, I would move. If not, especially on a trans-Atlantic flight, I don’t think I would. As large and as crowded as planes are these days, I would think there would be three men seated together somewhere on the plane and I’d hope one of them, who isn’t as terrified of flying as I am, would gladly give up his seat. And, if it was any other method of transportation, I’d be happy to move or stand for that matter.

  14. Mary says:

    Carol, I totally agree with you. If we all have just a bit more understanding for others and their needs. I would have moved. End of story!

  15. Lana says:

    I completely agree that understanding needs to go both ways. I would have no problem with moving my seat, but I would also expect that the gentleman wouldn’t hold up the flight if he couldn’t get what he wants. Thanks for providing a great dinner topic to discuss with my family tonight! Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  16. Because I am somewhat of a salty broad I often have “discussions” with people when they show less or no tolerance for my religious beliefs which impact no one. It doesn’t surprise me that if a religious belief did impact others there would some push back. I know that my beliefs have helped me to be a better person, a better mother and a better wife. So when I am vilified I recoil and lose some of my much practiced patient and love for my fellow man. What a person believes is not my business so I am surprised when others find it important to question what I believe. I will continue to try and see others the way God sees them, which is with total love. Even if it is a challenge for me. And if someone wants to trade seats with me for whatever reason I will do it with a smile. Contention helps nothing. As usual, my friend, you are the voice of reason and calm. Love you!!!

  17. I hadn’t heard about this story. But I think if you are going to travel, you need to accept that you may have to give up somethings.

  18. Heather says:

    This is a very well thought out post. I do agree with you that understanding is something our society seems to lack often. I’m not sure how I’d feel asked to give up my seat, I guess as long as I’m not sitting with someone I came on a flight with, I wouldn’t mind trading seats. Obviously I wouldn’t want to be separated from my kids, so I would object then, but it sounds like the issue got way out of hand.

  19. Hi Carol! I had not read or heard about this before and found it very thought provoking. I completely agree that most troubles can be helped with more understanding so I’m sure this is no exception. And while I agree that we all have the freedom to practice (or not practice) our religion of choice, I think we have to remember that there are some extremely unusual ways some people choose to practice (some might think my way of practicing is right up there in the mix of that) but my freedoms do not grant me the right to impose those on others without repercussions (with or without trying). When we judge those who make such unusual requests, and then also judge those who choose not to comply, it is really just two sides of the same coin. Would I give up my seat if asked in such a situation? Maybe….but I don’t think I can judge another for their choice any more than I would want mine to be judged. For me I want to attempt to live as kindly, and consciously as possible in every situation so it’s always one day at a time as best I can. ~Kathy

  20. Amy Bovaird says:

    Yes, I thought it was a well thought-out post as well. I can relate to it.
    I think the men don’t have enough experience and got caught out. Probably the next time, they will call in advance and plan their trip correctly. This is so like my experience (except I wasn’t demanding) but as a vision-impaired individual, I rode a plane for the first time with my mobility cane. I was coming from a background of complete independence (world traveler on my own) and my cane made everyone respond to me in a way that I couldn’t stand. All of the sudden I became the person they thought I was, dependent. All because I didn’t think in advance to let them know my specific skills and needs. Likewise, the men got caught up in their situation and pride, perhaps, made them continue on. But surely they didn’t like the way things played out either and will arrange their trip in advance the next time, just like I did. Thanks for sharing this post with us!

  21. PatU says:

    In regards to your comment about it being unlikely that Hassidic Jews will change society, I’d ask you to interview a non-Jew living somewhere around Monticello, NY.

    The population of Hassidic Jews in that area has grown tremendously due to a variety of reasons and their lifestyle and beliefs have greatly influenced how things work around there.

    It may not be society at large, but it is largely the society of the area!

    I started to become very curious about this during my many drives downstate to visit family. A stop at the Costco nearby is a cultural experience which takes one by surprise.

    Now…about the airplane situation. I really am not sure what I would do, but if it meant me not seating with my husband, I probably wouldn’t. If I were alone, I probably would, at least, think about it, if not agree right out.

    • Perhaps I should have been clearer with my point, in that the prohibition against being with women that Hasidic men have and an airplane move will not change women’s rights.

  22. Speaking as a theist, the problem presented by these beliefs is the concept that lays at their core: women are not equal to men. They are ritually or spiritually impure, and if this is not explicitly stated anymore then it can be sussed out anyway by looking at the rituals laws and by looking at their origins:
    + After giving birth to a male, a woman is unclean for seven days, but after giving birth to a female she is unclean for fourteen days.
    + Menstruation similarly made a woman unclean, as well as anything that she touched until she was made pure again.
    + It was permissible for a man who marry multiple women, but not the other way around.
    + If an unmarried woman were raped, she might be compelled to marry her rapist.
    + Women did not count as full people for the purpose of counting witnesses.
    + Women were excluded from the priesthood and other offices of power or influence.
    + &c.

    Now, does this mean that I want the government to step in and regulate religious thought? No. But individuals have the right to choose how they interact with other individuals, and if I were to give up my seat in order to accommodate someone’s religious belief that something about me were inferior, then I would be lending my support to that belief. The government should not interfere, but as moral persons we should not do anything to support behavior whose ultimate origins lie in a belief that one group of people is inherently inferior to another.

  23. Bismah says:

    If they have an issue sitting with someone of the opposite gender then maybe they should have purchase the seat next to them. Sometimes we just have to put up with situations in life whether we like it or not!

  24. Good points! People amaze me especially when they want everyone to bend over backwards for them but they are not willing to do the same.

  25. Sarah says:

    We need to respect everyone’s religious beliefs, even if we don’t have any of our own. I think planning is key. Airlines could allow for pre flight requests.

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