My Failure to Live By the MOGO Principle on Flight 35

This past weekend I had a long trip ahead of me to Seattle for Green Fest. Although thrilled by the opportunity to speak on the main stage about humane education, I was dreading the travel. In the best case scenario, I would have a 17 hour trip, with three separate flights and a five-hour layover in Boston. Plus I was stuck in a middle seat across the country.

When, about an hour from Portland, Oregon, a flight attendant asked if there were any medical personnel on board, I didn’t think much of it. I’ve been on lots of flights when this question has been asked, and it’s never been a big emergency. This time, however, it was. A man a few seats behind me had had a heart attack. Within minutes, he was laid in the aisle as two doctors tried valiantly to save him with CPR and oxygen. For 25 minutes they worked, shouting things as he flat-lined, contorting themselves in the aisle and standing on seats and armrests to position themselves properly during a choppy flight.

We made an emergency landing in eastern Washington, and the EMTs came on board and dragged the man down the aisle and off the plane on a cloth stretcher, but when I spoke to the doctor who was performing CPR on him (a cardiac anesthesiologist), he said that the man wasn’t going to make it.

And while we were a quiet group of passengers who didn’t interfere, intervene, or get riled up ourselves, we were also strangely unengaged. I talked to the two men on either side of me about what was happening, but as I felt tears ready to stream down my face, I quickly suppressed them. That a man was dying in our midst and the best we could do was sit quietly, was surreal. And even as I felt helpless and horrified, I also felt myself focusing selfishly on the delay in the flight and worried that I wouldn’t make it to Seattle that night. And then I found myself horrified that I could even be thinking about that while a man lay dying.

When I missed my connecting flight – the last to Seattle that night – I did my utmost to ensure that I got in line quickly to get a hotel, and took a seat at the front of the hotel van so that I could get in line quickly for a room at the hotel desk. I had a long weekend of tabling and speaking ahead of me, and I knew I’d be sleep-deprived enough without waiting in a long line for a bed for the night. The New Yorker in me came out in no time. And indeed, I was near the front of the line, and, it turned out, the last to be able to check into that particular hotel. The doctor who had worked to save this man’s life was one of many who would be transferred by the van to another hotel to wait in another line, only to awaken in a few short hours to continue his trip for a conference in Vancouver. I never even thought to let him take my spot. I regret that. I regret my lack of generosity. Oh, I had my big emotional reaction, sobbing the next morning as I thought about this man’s death, but I couldn’t even muster enough gratitude for this doctor’s efforts to give him a room sooner the night before. Granted I, too, had a big day and weekend ahead of me, but really. He had tried to save a man's life, while I sat quietly in my seat following instructions.

So now on my flight back home, I’m doing a bit of soul-searching. I’m thinking of the MOGO principle – to do the most good and the least harm to myself, other people, animals, and the environment – a principle I try to live by. I put myself ahead of everyone else when I disembarked that night; I did not live by a principle I profess to hold dear.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

Image courtesy of sylvar via Creative Commons.

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