Waiting near my gate at Dulles International Airport, I witnessed a distressing scene. An irate traveler was shouting at an airline employee, every sentence punctuated with at least one obscenity. Some sentences were solely obscenities connected with prepositions and pronouns, suggesting all new lyrics for the song “Conjunction Junction.” I found my attention divided between staring at this enraged man and observing how the others gathered near the gate were reacting. Like me, they wore masks of shock and embarrassment, desperate to look away but drawn to look back in morbid curiosity.
If they were anything like me, perhaps they were shocked that one person could treat another person so cruelly, so disrespectfully, so violently. At the same time, maybe they were embarrassed at recognizing the seed of that kind of behavior inside themselves, remembering times they themselves spoke harshly to another.
Apparently, he had been at the airport for a long time—I think I heard him say 10 hours. He was facing a further delay of a couple of hours, with no promise that his flight would actually take off. He stated—quite colorfully—that he did not want to spend the night in the airport. That his outbursts left the employee at the gate flustered and unable to assist him only made the traveler more furious. Of course, as in 99 percent of these situations, the employee who was the target of the traveler’s anger and expletives was in no way responsible for the traveler’s suffering and discomfort.
None of that really matters, though, does it? Those facts are poor excuses for the traveler’s behavior. There may be explanations for his behavior (unsatisfactory as they may be), but there are no excuses, as far as I’m concerned. He was, in my opinion, acting inexcusably.
The call to do no harm means more than just not killing or physically harming another being. I remember a sign at St. Mary’s Convent, in Peekskill, which explained that silence is more than just not speaking; silence also extends to actions and motions, which can be as disturbing to silence as speech. Likewise, doing no harm is not limited to refraining from physical abuse, but extends to abusive and injurious language, gestures, temperament, and thought.
Further, I believe that it is not sufficient just to do no harm. While we refrain from harm, I believe that we are called simultaneously to commit kindness—to care for and protect other beings, to seek out opportunities to help, comfort, and console.
I was relieved, admittedly, to board my plane and escape the poisoned atmosphere of the gate area. I was choked up with compassion for the airline employees (for there were three who were absorbing the traveler’s vitriol by this time). And, I was surprised to discover, with compassion for the traveler, for the pain in his life that drove him to inflict pain on others. I wondered what must be going on at his home, his job, his place of worship, to fill him with so much anger. And I loved him, just as he was, and prayed that the Buddha-nature that lives in him, like any other being, would emerge someday soon and soothe his sorrow and rage.
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