standing up for what's right

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

with my very dear friend DeeDee (left); do I look like a monster to you?

Yesterday I had a small encounter that sent me plummeting back to a very disturbing time of my life. It was the late 90s and I was working as a flight attendant for soon-to-take-a-dive Ansett Airlines.

For well over a decade after leaving the airline in 1999, I was tortured over memories of my final year in their employ. The airline was struggling and down-scaling. Our flight school had been one of the last of a large intake of flight attendants, and effectively, we were on the 'bottom of the pile' for around three years.

Because the department ran on seniority, and anyone above us (ie: everyone) could pick and choose the lion's share of work, employees of the last few intakes began to suffer financially. Like - seriously suffer. Some flight attendants were struggling to pay their mortgages, and after many many months of unrest, a very large group of people (me included) began talking about the fact that things needed to change. The outmoded and very inequitable 'seniority' system needed to be leveled to a more even playing field.

To our delight, the management of the FA Dept agreed. That is not where we hit a hurdle. Where we hit a hurdle was the blue collar section.

What we were intending was by no means a mass revolution. Even the slightest changes at upper FA levels would effect an enormous domino effect that would easily bring underling flight attendants a far more decent wage. What is was, pure and simple, was a large bunch of people who just wanted a fair go. Of course, like any situation that involves human nature and a fear of lack, those higher up the scale - those who had it all - suddenly got antsy about having to share.

I have always been a champion of the great Aussie catch-cry - 'a fair go'. Equability. Sharing. Standing up for what's right has got me in trouble in the past, and helping head up this way of thinking with the Ansett flight attendant department would get me in trouble again. I would effectively become a monster to those who refused to budge - to those who scrabbled maliciously and with utter gluttony to keep it all for themselves, and to those who would make my life unparalleled hell.

The thing with human nature is that we have an enormous capacity to see injustice and to speak out about it (in a non-threatening capacity).

The other thing about human nature, is that as soon as many of us are called to 'action' our stance - we politely peel away. We hide. Sometimes we even join the other side.

I did no such thing. I, along with literally two others, stood strong and firm against injustice. And so I became a human target.

It's been said that the greatest human evil is apathy. Refusing to act. Watching others flounder and die for a cause they heartily wish to benefit from, but are too weak to do anything about. Frankly, this is how Hitler got his way - thanks to apathy. The poor souls aboard that flight destined for the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 showed strength against apathy.

But I digress. This is the first time I've ever spoken publicly about the terror of my Ansett experience. Barely a handful of people know about it (oh - and all the hapless neanderthals who both instigated and stood by to watch my torture and the torture of a few others).

But the reason I'm talking about it now, is that when I was - just yesterday - reminded of this appalling time in my life - something new happened. Something wonderful.

I felt proud.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I felt monumentally strong and proud.

You can imagine the effect my Ansett experience had on my life - in that it took me well over a decade to feel finally feel at peace. Yes, the memories are still abhorrent but this amazing sense of peace and forgiveness has swept over me. I actually felt sorry for all those people. I felt sorry that they didn't have the selflessness or courage or generosity or intelligence or self-awareness to be able to look objectively at the situation. I felt genuinely saddened for them, that they would stoop to lambasting someone just because they stood up for what was right (and more than reasonable).

I felt sorry that they had become, for all intents and purposes - blue-eyed (or Rednecked, depending on your POV).

I call this new, welcome reaction the Rosa Parks effect. My standing up to the seniors of the Ansett FA department may not even come up to the socks of what this monumental woman achieved for Civil Rights in America, but my oh my, I feel proud to even in the slightest way know that, just like Rosa, I would rather stand up and suffer than sit down and suffer (although, of course, in order to stand up, Rosa sat down!).

The years of hell those people willingly put me through pale in comparison to knowing I could have done nothing. Doing nothing has lifelong consequences that are surely the equivalent of a hundred times what I went through.

What have you done lately? It doesn't have to be for a mass cause. It could just be for yourself and the way others are mistreating you. Have you stood up? or have you sat down?


Silverdragon said...

Bravo, Tania!! I do try to stand up for right where I see a need and even just basic good manners.

It pales into insignificance by comparison to your experience, but I did pull a guy up yesterday for barging past myself with the pram and Miss 5 beside me on a travellator at the mall. He couldn't be bothered waiting for two minutes and couldn't even excuse himself, just shoved past the small child in his way and kept going. I told him the words he was looking for were "Excuse me".

Dani said...

Oh my....what's that flying through space? A huge weight lifted off you shoulders! I remember walking through the Bourke St Mall in the early 90's and being "pestered" by people about freeing East Timor". Where? It's not my problem. Come early 2000 and I begin to live there and experience the atrocities they endured and was so ashamed of my ignorance. Those people had the guts to fight the bigger fight. They chose not to live in ignorance and to do whatever they could to make life fair. In short, they could sleep at night knowing they were tring to make a difference from thousands of miles away for people they may never eet. It is people like that, and you, who have courage, who make this world better one battle at a time. We teach our children that bullying is wrong but perhaps we should be instilling this in everyone? It is people like you who have the courage to question if the past is fair that make the future a fairer place for us all. I dont know if I have ever told you how proud I am of you for taking a stand. So many agreed but were not strong enough to say it out loud. This is one of the great joys of getting older and gaining our wisdom. That, and the fact we can look back and say....hey...didn't we look great in that pic! X

Posie Patchwork said...

Hurrah, what a powerful post & i remember when Ansett went down as they were our preferred airline at Shell & we had lots of social functions & kapow, disappeared, overnight??!!
Oh i've stood up for many things, personal & on behalf of others who either can't/ won't/ aren't strong enough, i refuse to be walked over in any big business. Thing is, a small association with a small business can be just as brutal.
All i know is that my children are empowered & strong, bully proof & ready for the real world, thanks to my experience. It's so often not even the organisation but one insecure inferiority complex crazy who just zones in on you as YOU are everything they hate - happy, strong, popular & competent, that is extremely confronting for weaker people who see you coming a mile off, even if you don't want their job, just knowing you could do it better sends them into overdrive of insecurity, to the point they create rumours, where is the maturity. Love Posie

Posie Patchwork said...

PS you're both beautiful, what a great shot!! Love Posie

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