Deborah Tan, Opinions

This Is Way Better Than The Knee Defender – Deborah Tan

News about two warring passengers on United Airlines have brought a nifty gadget into the limelight – The Knee Defender. However, Deborah Tan would like to advocate the use of something else. This, you can use not just on planes, you can also use on buses and trains.

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

At the office yesterday, Vanessa (or was it Lili?) shared a news about how a scuffle broke out between two passengers on a United Airlines domestic flight because one of them used a gadget called The Knee Defender to prevent the other from reclining her seat.

My first comment after hearing the news was, “Wow! Where can I buy this gadget?”

Vanessa’s eyes opened wide in shock. “You mean you will stop the person in front of you from reclining his chair?!?”

“Yeah, why not? On budget airlines, the legroom is already so tiny! PLUS, if it’s a short flight, will it kill someone to sit up straight?”

Woah! Back track just a little there. Yes, UA is not a budget airline. Yes, the two passengers in the news had actually paid for seats with more legroom. Yes, articles about the incident seem to suggest that the man (who used the Knee Defender) reclined his own seat even as he prevented the woman from doing so.

But allow me explain myself …

The Uncomfortable Territory Called “自动”
“自动” is Mandarin for “automatic”. It is pronounced “jee-dong” in Cantonese, “tzi-dong” in Hokkien. Colloquially, when someone says, “Be tzi-dong”, he means that you should read the situation and take the initiative to not get yourself or other people in trouble.

It is more than just self-awareness; being “tzi-dong” means taking the self-awareness one step further – you act on it and stay out of the way or do what is needed of you.

Why did I say I need the Knee Defender? Well, it’s precisely because a lot of people are not “tzi-dong”. And this incident on UA highlights the fine line between knowing your rights and being “tzi-dong”.

The Knee Defender

The Knee Defender

Do Unto Others
There’s a saying that goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It means treat people the same way you want to be treated.

In the comments that come after the reports on this incident, many people say, “It’s the woman’s right to recline her seat. If the man wanted more legroom, he should have flown First Class.”

We don’t know just how far back the woman reclined her seat. Nor do we know how tall/annoying/ridiculous the man was.

In the ideal world, if both the passengers were “tzi-dong”, the woman might have reclined her seat back only slightly and the man might graciously removed the Knee Defender when asked.

When I said I wanted to buy the Knee Defender, it’s because my being “tzi-dong” and not reclining my seat in a tiny budget airplane does not serve me well if the passenger seated in front of me is unaware that I’m making an effort to be considerate towards the person seated behind me.

This UA incident also highlights the difference between what is perceived as “I paid for this right” and “Everyone has the right”. As passengers we have paid for the right to recline our seat. But everyone has the right to be comfortable and to be accorded some consideration. When you recline your seat, do you ever stop to think, “Am I being an ass to the person behind me?”

Expecting Others To Be “Tzi-Dong”
Other people have also commented how the man in the incident was being self-righteous. He may or may not have behaved like a schmuck but herein lies the difficulty in expecting others to be “tzi-dong”. Usually, the ones who are hoping that other people would be “tzi-dong” are labelled as “self-righteous”, told to “get off their high horses”.

I think this is why people these days don’t bother being considerate to others anymore. Despite numerous campaigns telling us to “move in”, to “give up your seat to those who need it more”, many people still find it possible to be asses on public transport. They remain where they are as if waiting for someone to tell them to be “tzi-dong” so that they can say, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

This is perhaps why “shoot and shame” sites like Stomp are so popular. We don’t want to march up to someone to tell them, “Hey! Don’t shit outside the MRT station!” because we don’t want the offender to shout, “Do you think you are better than me!?”

That’s the thing: we don’t think we are better, but we just want people to do what is right so everyone will be happier and more comfortable! And there is nothing wrong with this!

So, while I won’t be advocating the use of the Knee Defender, just yet, I would like to remind everyone of this good ol’ Chinese term “自动” – to automatically know when to do what is right for the good and happiness of everyone, not just yours alone.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She really hates it when people are “buay tzi-dong”. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.