airline travel

You Don’t Need an Excuse to be Socially Excellent

by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre

Traveling with #BabyJune so far been an absolute blast. I enjoy some aspects of travel, mostly the making of new friends. I try hard to practice my craft on planes – being friendly, being a host, and loving others in whatever space they are in (even if they are taking up too much of it). I like to observe people in airports and on planes a lot, and I’ve noticed that in airports, people are nervous and hurried.

They are often confused by the lingo and the rules and regulations, and people get really angry about lines and delays. As a general rule, in airports people eat crappy food and get crappy service and may even have to stop to get a nine-dollar bottle of water that they will be forced to consume on the floor, or crammed next to a stranger like a sardine. This part of travel reminds me of sorority recruitment: letters and rules we don’t understand, being herded like cattle from one party to the next, only to sit in a crowded place to attempt conversation.

So, I understand why people can get a little cranky when traveling. That’s why traveling with my baby daughter this summer has been so eye-opening. Babies remind us of a gentler time, maybe when we were parents or aunts and uncles or sitters. After all, the one thing we all have in common is that we were all babies at one time or another. Babies are therapy and they make us slow down. They are so helpless that we can’t help but offer up compassion. How have people reacted to #BabyJune on a plane, airports, hotels, rental cars, and Uber rides? So far, quite beautifully actually.

I have always witnessed the beauty of the human condition through my children. People hold the door for me, try desperately to figure out my stroller, offer to hold her, help me charge my phone, throw trash away for me, smile and laugh when she does too, and lean in when she’s unhappy.  Strangers turn into friends and want to know her and know me. When a baby is around, curiosity and generosity come naturally. I think this is because parents can’t help but espouse authenticity and vulnerability, especially during travel.

Curiosity, generosity, authenticity, and vulnerability are the pillars of Social Excellence. Social Excellence is what I see all around me when traveling with a baby, and it’s caused me to wonder why the same is not true in another, more conventional circumstance. Why don’t we show compassion to others as we do a child? We look at our watches and hem and haw when an elderly person takes far too long through a security line, but what about a mother with baby? We offer to help, we carry things, and we carry her through it.

We are not conditioned to talk to strangers at all, but a baby on-board a plane elicits smiles and coos and questions. Without a baby involved, we wouldn’t dare literally crawl over the lap of an overweight person to help them buckle a seatbelt, throw trash away for a busy stranger, or make intentional eye contact with someone else to smile warmly and laugh a little together. But, maybe we should.

When you stop and think about the road you are traveling, whether on foot around the corner or sailing half-way around the world, consider how you choose to beautify the situation. Being generous and curious has its rewards. The human contact you receive in return is a gift that’s like nothing else you’ll ever feel.

Cool people care.

It’s that simple, and you don’t need an “in” like a baby, a commonality, or a shared desire. You just need to show up being willing to choose Social Excellence. You also don’t need an excuse to be authentically and vulnerably you. I have the great fortune of being forced into authentic and vulnerable existence because of many circumstances in my life, but those aside I’d choose to show up this way anyway because it feels good to just be me. I don’t care what people think – I care about how they feel.

This month, thousands of students will walk onto a college campus to start a new year, and I hope that they feel welcomed and loved. I hope they choose to be hosted and do the hosting. I hope they choose to be social and be excellent. As my travels take me to so many sorority chapters and communities, I feel blessed to be on the journey along with my daughter – and I look forward to continuing to practice my craft of Social Excellence wherever my travels take me this Fall!