Personal Finance: Workplace Wrath

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, August 12, 2010; 9:19 AM

If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to cuss somebody out while doing my job over the last two decades, I could easily send all three of my children to college without touching my savings.

But my grandmother, Big Mama, taught me to hold my tongue. No matter how mad you get at work, act like you got some sense, Big Mama counseled me.

My grandmother worked as a nursing assistant for 25 years and she was mistreated by overly demanding and/or rude patients and staff. But even though my grandmother had a wicked tongue, she didn't let people push her to that zone when she was on the job. Of course, part of the reason for that is that she couldn't afford to lose her job, but mostly it's because my grandmother believed that you should always behave well at work.

Should people really be applauding the JetBlue flight attendant who lost his cool and got into a dispute with a passenger after he tried to get her to take her seat as the plane taxied onto the runway at JFK Airport? It appears she might have even hit him in the head with her bag. Steven Slater allegedly cursed at the passenger, grabbed a beer, opened the emergency exit and jumped down the aircraft's slide. He is now facing criminal charges.

An article in the New York Post reports that federal authorities are looking for the passenger that set this whole ugly event in motion. She could face $25,000 in federal fines. And she should, if authorities find she was in the wrong. Find her and make her pay.

My colleague, Jonathan Capehart, writing on the Post blog PostPartisan, says he understands Slater's meltdown.

He writes, "Had I been on that flight I would have tried to get one of those slow claps going among the passengers."

Capehart does say Slater should be held accountable for his actions, but there's still admiration for what he did.

In another PostPartisan post, Alexandra Petri writes, "When he directed a choice stream of invective at that one passenger, no one was hurt, he bailed before the plane took off -- and in the moment that will enshrine him forever in the hearts and minds of his countrymen, he even grabbed a beer. People talk about flight attendants' coolness in moments of crisis. This was one of those moments."

In a non-scientific Post poll, 43 percent of readers voted that Slater's actions were legendary.

I get it. We are fed up with rude, entitled people. While I understand Slater's frustration at having to endure many rude airline passengers' behavior -- heck, I've wanted to slap, not just cuss, out a few myself -- we should be very careful about endorsing his actions.

Workplace wrath can lead to some not-so-funny moments. People can get hurt in these incidents of retaliation rage. No matter how justified Slater was, he shouldn't be made a hero. Sympathize with him, but don't applaud him.

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