Long Way Home

Date: 
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Written By : 
Richard G. Watson
Picture: 

As a rough estimate, I would say that well over 80% of my blogs are written in planes and/or airports.  And with this blog, that percentage just went up.

After leaving my house to head to the nearby airport at around 5am this morning, and then spending some six hours flying time on the plane, we are just about to land at the airport near my house … for the second time today.  No, I don’ have houses close to airports dotted around world.  And no, I don’t own a private jet.  This is actually my second visit to same airport near where I live, in a period of about 7 hours.

Of course, there is a story, and probably a moral to it as well.

This week on LinkedIn and other social media, many people including myself posted details of Typhoon Hato, a rare level 10 typhoon the likes of which has not been seen for some 5 years, made landfall close to Hong Kong.  Level 8 typhoons are enough to basically close down Hong Kong usually for several hours if not a day or so.  And so, a Level 10 is serious cause for concern. Naturally the airport also closes down for obvious reasons.

To add salt to the wounds, within days of Typhoon Hato, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau and southern China were affected by a second typhoon (Typhoon Pakhar) with almost same path heading north west from Philippines.  Actually, that day is unfortunately today.  And so, I picked a really great day to travel to Hong Kong … After traveling half way to Hong Kong, the pilot turned the plane around and went back the Philippines.  An hour after landing, we took off again, bound for Hong Kong.  Two hours later, lots of bumps and an aborted landing, the pilot turned the plane around and again headed back to Philippines.

I could try to be wise and whimsical or make some sarcastic comments about it being a fun way to spend a Sunday.  But the 100 or so passengers, every one of whom has made this journey with me today, are exhausted and it somehow doesn’t seem appropriate.  I feel for the captain who had to deliver the bad news to passengers, twice within a few hours.  To my surprise, very few passengers complained apart from a disappointed sigh or two (yes, I was indeed one of those who sighed and screwed up my face in disappointment).

But there is something to be said for gracefully accepting fate or chance or simple bad luck when there is no one to blame and nothing we can do to change it anyway.  I am not for one minute saying I am like that, but I do admire it in others.  I will get to Hong Kong still but it might not be today, or perhaps I will drink coffee at the airport for several hours more before we try again.  The captain on this flight has apologised several times to us passengers when obviously this is not his fault, and he had no other option but to ensure the safety of this passengers.

So perhaps the lesson here is one of patience or persistence or maybe learning not to grumble over things that cannot be changed.  Or apologising even when it’s not our fault?  Maybe all of these.

This past week alone, I was apologised to probably 10 times by various people including own staff, hotel staff and waiters at a few restaurants.  Most were completely unnecessary – those who were apologising were not to blame – but they still felt compelled to apologise for me being inconvenienced by someone else’s error or mother nature herself.  (Now if I can just find someone else to blame for the dent I put in my car at the carpark yesterday …).  But we all feel compelled to apologise – particularly to our elders, those more senior in rank than us at the office and, of course, to our clients.

I often hear myself say to others “I don’t need you to apologise.  Let’s just fix the problem and work out how to avoid making the same mistake again”.  Obviously, I stole that line and paraphrased it but I mostly live by it.

But there are times when an apology is totally needed and appropriate.  This week, I verbally abused a security guard (ok several of them who just happened to be within earshot), and then went back the next day to apologise to them for me being rude as I was simply in a bad mood.  I am usually the one in my office to apologise to clients on the occasion where we miss something or make a mistake.  While it is not common in my office, we do need to take ownership for our errors.

So, when is the right time to apologise?  Sometimes we feel sorry for someone’s pain so we apologise for that.  More out of empathy than being responsible for it.  Other times, we clearly messed up and so an apology is required, and expected.  In my business, we try not to cause any problems that would require an apology.  And we certainly want to continue to develop a culture of problem solving so that we don’t need to say sorry.

Typhoons are a whole other matter.  Blaming mother nature won’t help.  And don’t expect her to apologise. The captain of our plane didn’t create the typhoon but he still apologised for not landing us in Hong Kong (twice) due to safely concerns.  Obviously, he apologised out of sympathy for our predicament and his inability to change the outcome.  Either way, it was received well by the passengers who all headed back to their homes to try again another day.  As did I.

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