How Full Can a Plane Be?
Given all the serious issues facing us as a nation, a church and a global society, I thought a moment of levity might be a fitting way to end the summer season as we prepare for the work that September brings. So, I hope you enjoy these musings.
It seems our national vocabulary has become saturated with hyperbole. We cannot resist adding adverbs to try to articulate the severity or importance of any statement. To spot an adverb, just look for the -ly ending. So, for instance, my issues aren’t just important anymore, they are vitally important. Other people’s views are entirely wrong. People we disagree with are utterly stupid. You get the idea.
The problem is that most often the adverb is unnecessary and used to the point of silliness. Here is an example.
While sitting in an airport waiting area preparing to board my flight, the gate agent announced over the speaker that, “our plane is full today, so please limit your carryons to two pieces.” That made sense. When I hear the word ‘full’ it can have only one meaning; every seat has a backside in it. 76 seats, 76 passengers = full.
Given this understanding of the definition of a simple word like ‘full’, you can imagine my concern when, a few weeks later in another airport waiting room, I heard the disturbing announcement, “ladies and gentlemen, our flight today is very full.” Very full? Very full? What could this mean? If ‘full’ means every seat is occupied, then very full must mean that people would be sitting in the aisle or standing in the lavatory. I shuddered to think what must await us on a flight that was beyond full to very full!
But it gets worse. Not long ago, I was awaiting yet another flight when the gate agent sent panic across the waiting room with her announcement that our flight to Orlando was “completely full.” How do you comprehend a completely full flight? Not only people in the aisles and filling the toilets, but surely they would be sitting on those nice, wide armrests in first class, pressing into the galleys and even sitting on the laps of some unfortunate coach passengers. Can you envision a flight that is completely full? Terrifying!
I thought surely that must be the worst. What could be more devastating than a cross country trip on a completely full flight? The horror! And then it happened. Just last week as I found my place in the boarding line for yet another flight, we were informed of the most devastating scenario facing a traveler. Her words still haunt me, “Ladies and gentlemen, please be advised that our flight to Seattle today is extremely full.” The mental image boggled the mind. People stacked on top of each other as passengers crammed themselves into every conceivable space. Boarding agents standing on the ramp pushing people in until the last possible person was held in place as the door was shut behind them with a shout, “everybody breathe in on the count of three…”
Of course, this is a bit of hyperbole. The simple truth is that there were exactly the same number of people on the ‘full’ flight as there were on the very full flight, the completely full flight and even the extremely full flight. So how can having one person in every seat be interpreted as full to one person, and extremely full to another?
Perhaps this is a byproduct of the desensitization of our culture. As our national dialogue becomes ever more vitriolic, our divisions grow deeper and our anger more easily stirred, we need the exaggeration adverbs provide to express the full extent of our feelings. Used this way, adverbs can help us demonize, patronize and demoralize our opponents. Adding two or three well-chosen adverbs transforms someone who is ‘mistaken’ into a more heinous figure who is dangerously, utterly and damnably mistaken.
These adverbs also serve to heighten the intensity of our self-justification and pretense. We are no longer just offended by a comment, we are egregiously, intentionally and unforgivably offended. The adverbs take us beyond the action to labeling the motives.
If you listen for them, you will hear them everywhere, maybe even in your own speech. Perhaps we can take a lesson from our beleaguered airline gate agents and let full be full. A bit less exaggeration may help us bring our national dialogue back into an arena where civility and common grace can once again have the stage.