The Sour Grapes Effect and other unfortunate aspects of the human condition
The Sour Grapes effect is wonderfully on display when engaging in air travel. If you fly often and are loyal to a certain airline, they will grant you occasional free upgrades to First Class. Depending upon the airline in general and the airplane you happen to be on in particular, this can be a wonderful experience for you. You’ll get free drinks (so long, $7 Bud Lights). You’ll get free snack food. You’ll get a big leather chair that’s more comfortable. You’ll get plenty of legroom. The FA will take your jacket and hang it up for you. You’ll get more personalized service: they will even remember your name.
Whenever I get upgraded and am onboard and seated, I always think about what the other passengers think about us in First Class as they shuffle on by to the back of the plane. I wonder this because I know what I used to think about my First Class friends. These were not compassionate thoughts. These were not helpful or useful thoughts. These thoughts were the very essence of Sour Grapes: Ugh, First Class isn’t worth it, for those grapes are sour.
Why do people fly First Class?
I used to think “Why would anybody pay $1,500 for a First Class ticket!? That’s crazy! Who do those people think they are? (As Marshall Goldsmith reminds us, whenever someone uses “those people” in a sentence, nothing positive is ever intended in the statement.) Keep in mind, I’d never flown in First Class before while I was judging them harshly, a very human thing to do / think. Then, one day on a certain flight to O’Hare, I got the upgrade. And, of course, I was blown away by how much better it was up front than in the back. I learned that people fly First Class because of how it makes them feel. When you fly First Class, you Feel First Class. I can hear The Facebook and Twitterati crying foul right now: You fly First Class?! What an Asshole! Just like the rest of those Jerks up front!
There are a couple of reasons why offering a First Class experience is a great business idea. It offers a product to a market in a good, better, and best fashion, which is always a good idea. It offers a premium experience to a certain customer that will always buy the most expensive thing you’ve got, which is always a good idea. It offers exclusivity to a few select individuals, which is always a good idea. It gives customers something to strive and compete for, which is always a good idea. It offers a status upgrade and badge for people to wear proudly, which is always a good idea. It gives people bragging rights, which is always a good idea.
Does anybody actually like their choice of airline?
By viewing the social media Zeitgeist, you will discover that many, many people snark on American. I don’t. I think American Airlines is a terrific airline. (Have you heard that one lately? People liking their choice of airline?) American does a heck of a lot of things right. I think their FAs are helpful and genuinely happy to be there most of the time. It shows in their work and spirit of service to the passengers. If you’re in First Class, you’ll find that they do seem to boost their energy and enthusiasm for the job up there. Perhaps they get special training. Perhaps they just deem it necessary to bring their ‘A’ game up there. Whatever the case, they typically bring it to First Class.
American actually gets it right when it comes to passenger experience. In a way, they have an unfair advantage in their aircraft offering. Smaller planes mean a completely different experience vs. a larger 737–800 you find on Southwest. 737–800’s are fine — if you’re the airline or Boeing, the one making them. But when you’re a passenger on a 737, you’re a part of a big herd of 190 people. You see it and you feel it and in a way, you’re treated like it. Conversely, when you’re on a CRJ-900 on American, you’re a part of a smaller, more intimate experience. It is also far quieter up in the air. If you’re hyper sensitive to noise like I am, this makes a huge difference to you. It is interesting how “bad” we can have it, yet not realize it until we have an alternate experience. Precisely the experience of snarking on First Class passengers for years all the way up until you are the one sitting in First Class. Then, suddenly, your perspective changes immediately due to the experience.
Why knock what you’ve never tried? And other unfortunate aspects of the human condition.
Similarly, I matched my dumb, naive thinking about First Class with the Admiral’s Club. Here it goes: why would anyone pay $500 per year to just hang out in a select space in the airport?! Don’t those people get it? Then, on one specific trip, my boss got me in under his membership. And, of course, like First Class, I loved it. While it depends on where you’re at, the Admiral’s Club is a great space if not for one reason: it is quiet. If you’ve got kids, you know how valuable this is. Being hyper sensitive to noise, I put a premium on quiet. Controlled spaces away from excess noise and busyness are heaven to me. Some of the Clubs are so good it is unfair, like the new Admiral’s Club at O’Hare. It is impeccable. Now, I get it. Took me years, but I eventually caught on. It sure is strange how we knock things we’ve never tried, an unfortunate aspect of the human condition. But then again, it is Sour Grapes. Whenever I get into exclusive places like the Admiral’s Club, I always expect a bouncer to come up to me and tell me, “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.” As Groucho Marx used to say, “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Why must we mock that which we’ve never tried? Hooters, of all places, had a t-shirt stating, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” This is surprisingly good advice. Why look down on something you haven’t done or never tried? How does that benefit you? All that does is close you off to the world and what it offers. Far better to try things out first and then decide whether they’re for you. Duh. We know this kitchen table wisdom, and yet here we are, mocking the unknown away often to our detriment. It makes you wonder how much we’ve missed out through our own harsh judgements and personal proscriptions.
For 20+ years of my life, I was scared to death of seafood. Then, one glorious and courageous day (for me), a friend took me to sushi. I tried it. It changed everything. I felt like Anton Ego, the food critic at the end of Ratatouille when he has the ratatouille. It was like being a child again in the best possible way. It was like being set free from food prison. It was an awakening, a revival. Incredibly, sushi still has this effect on me after an additional 20 years. I simply cannot believe food can taste like this. Every time I eat it, I think, Incredible! How do they do it?!
Now that the food doors had been blown open for me, it was my civic duty to try other seafood I might potentially enjoy. In my new found food courageousness, I tried scallops, swordfish, crab, crab cakes, tilapia, catfish, lobster, tuna poke (incredible), wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, and, well, any fish I could get my hands on. To this day, I love nearly all of it. Again, for the first 20 years of my life, I held my nose whenever seafood was presented to me. Now, I’m like Zimmerman or Bourdain — let me at it! And then, more, please. Scallops AND swordfish!? Great idea!
What else do you condemn that might actually be joyous?
While you feel a little dumb for missing out all those years on something wonderful, like seafood, you also feel a sense of relief that you finally get it now. You’re no longer in the dark. You’re improving. You’re getting it. The really great thing about these experiences is it opens your mind up more and makes you question your tastes and preferences. If you were wrong about this for so many years, what else are you wrong about? Where else are you currently blowing it? What else do you condemn that might actually be joyous?