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A Little Happier: Why We Should Be Polite to the Person Sitting Next to Us on the Airplane.


As I’ve mentioned many times, I love proverbs, koans, Secrets of Adulthood, paradoxes, parables, fables, and teaching stories of all kinds.

As part of this, I’ve collected aphorisms for years, and recently I’ve started writing my own aphorisms.

I’ve noticed that occasionally, I’ll write an aphorism that strikes me as very powerful, but I’ll realize that without an illustration, it might not make much of an impression on other people.

I’ll give you an example. My aphorism is: “Modesty and good manners can save us from a lot of embarrassment.

Take a second to decide what you think that means. Now I’ll tell you a story to illustrate it.

This is a story about Dick Bass. Dick Bass was the son of a Texas oil baron, he was a ski-resort entrepreneur, and he often went on ambitious mountain-climbing expeditions. His achievements included being the first person to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents, as well as being the oldest person to climb Mount Everest, at the age of fifty-five. He was a guy with a big life and a big personality.

One time, Dick Bass was on a cross-country flight, and he spent the time regaling his very nice seatmate with details from his adventures on all seven continents. He climbed the dangerous peaks of Everest and McKinley, he almost died in the Himalayas, he was planning to climb Everest a second time.

As the plane started its descent, Bass realized that he’d done all the talking. He said to the man sitting next to him, “After all this, I don’t think I’ve introduced myself. My name is Dick Bass.” The man shook his hand and responded, “That’s okay. I’m Neil Armstrong. Nice to meet you.”

Modesty and good manners can save us from a lot of embarrassment.

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