The lesson I learned from the pre-flight safety announcement


After a lot of flying, many of the things we endure (security screening, etc) we tend to look at in different ways, the way that saying a word over and over slowly rotates the word in your head until it sounds completely foreign and strange. (Try this with “corn.”)

Case in point is the pre-flight safety announcement. At some point, usually while taxiing out from the gate to the runway, the flight crew will stand up in the aisles and perform what after a while becomes a kind of ballet. While someone narrates (“Please locate the closest exit to you…“) we watch synchronized movements (the crew pointing to the exits, buckling a fake seat belt, putting on a life vest, etc.). It’s an odd scene.

Most people ignore this performance, but the spiel gets into my brain, and I’ve realized that maybe there is more to this easily-ignored message than we may initially realize.

Please listen to this important announcement

Specifically the phrase:

In the event of a cabin depressurization, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the cabin ceiling. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Please secure your mask before assisting others.

It’s that last sentence that intrigues me, as I feel like it has wider implications for our lives:

The mask implies a kind of continued thriving (or, in the literal sense, continued existence). So “securing your mask” means a method of ensuring your own continued survival and prosperity.

Securing your mask before assisting others means, in its most general sense, that you should focus on and ensure your own prosperity first, before you help others with theirs.

Perhaps this is the product of a brain that’s been exposed to too much high-altitude, but I think those are words to live by.

All for love

It seems to me that you need to secure your own emotional needs before assisting others.

All too often, we can get stuck in the habit of subverting our own needs in favor of the needs of another. But this never really works in the long run; you can’t ignore your needs forever, especially emotional ones, and so you will likely end up sabotaging the very relationships you were trying so hard to keep afloat (through resentment or just disconnection). Better to work to ensure your needs are met, which will make you better able to help meet the needs of others.

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For love or money

But it’s not just emotions we need to secure. We also need to secure our “financial mask”.

We wish to help others. Or rather, I hope we all do. (If we don’t, it’s because of some kind of cultural empathy gap that we are experiencing.) But it seems like before we can really meaningfully provide for others, we need to make sure that we ourselves are on strong footing. Otherwise, we may give too much, which then could lead to us being in need, reversing the process. It doesn’t make sense.

For the children

I’m not a parent, but I hear it’s common for parents to prioritize their children over themselves. For example, they may take whatever extra money they have and spend it on their children, before they have taken care of their own needs/future/retirement.

This is admirable, but to me, the best way to provide for your children would be to remain stable and self-sufficient. Otherwise, what happens if you get to old age and you find out that you have nothing but Social Security? Your kids might then have to support you, which might have been the social contract of another age, but does not seem to me the picture of providing for your children. Better to get to a point where you won’t burden your children with the need to take care of you.

For yourself

But we don’t need to give more than we are able. If we secure our mask first, if we make ourselves secure, safe, happy, stable, and comfortable, then, and only then, will we be able to better assist others with the same. Which will ensure a safe landing for all.

But enough about me. Do you ever find yourself favoring others’ needs over yours?

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