The Noble and the Common


This post is about flying, decency, and Nietzsche. Don’t worry, it all fits together in the end.

Another trip to Seattle. Another six hours and two planes. So I’ve started using the Seat Preferences option when I book to ensure I get a good seat. And good is? The window seat of course!

So I got a window seat on both flights. I’m so important.

On the LA to Seattle leg I got one over the wing; my favorite spot. Quiet, stable, and with a great view. I broke out The Gay Science, probably my favorite book by Nietzsche, and read several aphorisms, one of which was number 3, Noble and Common.

We were in the air for about half an hour when a woman with the distracted air of a mother in distress came down the aisle. We made eye contact and in that moment I saw hope, concern, and hesitation. Then she leaned forward.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure,” I said, knowing already what the favor was.

Before the flight had taken off, the woman had walked by with her husband and three year-old daughter. They were talking to the flight attendant about getting three seats together. The middle seat in my row was open. Hence.

“Would you mind moving seats for my daughter? We’re in the back and it’s very loud. She’s scared and I think she’d do better with a window seat.”

I was already packing my stuff up.

“No problem,” I said. Like I’d say no, right?

Then I thought of the man in the aisle seat. The mom hadn’t asked him if it was okay. I figured I should at least acknowledge him.

“You don’t mind, do you?” My tone suggested I didn’t know it was a leading question.

He rolled his eyes. “Well, it’s not my first choice.”


“Well,” I said, as I pulled my backpack out from under the seat, “sometimes we have to sacrifice a little bit of our comfort for the well-being of others.”

That got me a cold stare.

The little girl arrived in her dad’s arms. She was in tears, obviously distraught by the whole situation.

“No, no, daddy, I don’t want to be up here.”

Naturally, my heart went out to her. She could have been Kaia. Maybe some games on my laptop will soothe her, I figured. So I started to create a user ID on my Macbook, but I never utilized it. After a bit of crying and settling in, she said, “Look, mommy, I can see the sun,” and promptly passed out.

She slept the rest of the flight.

When we landed, the mother couldn’t thank me enough. I don’t think I did anything special. But that’s precisely because I have a noble nature and because the man next to me has a common one. He considers “all noble, magnanimous feelings inexpedient and therefore first of all incredible .” He and others like him “see a noble person as a kind of fool; they despise him in his joy and laugh at his shining eyes. ‘How can one enjoy being at a disadvantage?.'”

They will probably never understand how being “disadvantaged” can bring such a sense of delight and satisfaction. How sad.


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