This last week, I had the honor of speaking at the 57th Annual Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar (CASS) in San Antonio, presented by the world-renowned Flight Safety Foundation.   I presented a paper entitled “CRM and SMS: Directing the Evolution of Aviation Organizational Culture,”  written by my fellow Embry-Riddle PhD student, David Freiwald and me, but unfortunately David was unable to attend and I had to present solo.

The presentation was extremely well-received by about 99 and 44/100ths percent of the audience, but apparently I offended someone.  After receiving multiple congratulatory handshakes as I left the auditorium and during the ensuing lunch, I was later cornered by an attendee who apparently was highly offended by an introductory joke I used which made fun of a particular aviation publication.  Now I won’t recount the details of the joke other than to say that it was a throwaway line at the very beginning of my presentation, but I did highlight a specific article in the publication that I ridiculed because the  article superbly illustrated a lack of understanding of Safety Management Systems and provided an excellent set-up for the context of my discussion.  When I was accosted later by the offended party, he proceeded to tell me that he wrote for the publication in question and took my remarks personally.  He went on to lambaste me for even using the article I had quoted, accusing me of insensitivity and deliberately insulting the gentleman who authored the article.   While many retorts came to my mind (and they were superbly-worded – trust me), I remained polite and courteously told him I appreciated his feedback.

Well apparently that wasn’t enough.

The next day, as I returned to work, I found myself cc’d on an email written by the gentleman who accosted me to the leadership of the magazine I had mentioned in my presentation.  As I read the email, I can honestly say that I was somewhat taken aback.  Apparently this gentleman’s angst had grown since he spoke to me and he was determined to reprove me once again, this time with the leadership of the magazine listening.  The gist of his remarks accused me of being a subhuman form of life because I “insulted” the magazine, but also criticized me for even using the article I quoted in my presentation.  If that weren’t enough, the publisher of the magazine responded, again cc’ing me, basically agreeing with this gentleman’s remarks and raking me over the coals once again.  Eventually, I responded in measured, courteous form and told the email audience that I was expressing an opinion, that I had served in the military for 20 plus years to allow people in our country to state their opinions, and that the problem with opinions is that sometimes they hurt peoples’ feelings.  I also told the audience that I strongly suggested they get thicker skin.

So here’s the point of all of this: If you were in an audience and you heard someone say something less than flattering about the publication you wrote for, there are three ways in which you could react:

1) Disregard the remark.  This would be the reaction of someone secure in their work and their venue.  This person understands that one of the reasons there are several flavors of ice cream and several aviation publications in the marketplace is because people have different tastes.

2) Find out what inspired that person to say what he or she said and use it as a feedback opportunity.  This is the reaction of someone who wants to constantly improve and get better.

3) Become insulted and accost the speaker.  (I’ll let the reader fill in the motivation here.)

So I guess I find myself a little frustrated as a result of all of this.

Have we all gone so soft that we can’t deal with a little humor at our own expense?  I laugh at myself more than anything or anyone else in my life.  If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then life will seem more harsh than it really is.

Have we gotten to a place where differences of opinion are insulting?  Differences of opinion are just that, differences of opinion.  Not everyone will agree with what you think.  Get over it.

Finally, are we at a place where we put something into print and then aren’t willing to accept responsibility for it?  If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.  And for sure, don’t write it.  Or publish it.

Okay, so enough ranting for now.  Single malt is calling and I must heed the call.