Would you rather go nowhere or fly free with some compromise?
That was the option JetBlue Airlines presented to 150 passengers on a flight bound for Phoenix from Boston. "Everyone who's willing to participate has a chance to win one round-trip ticket to anywhere JetBlue flies," the Captain told them as they hovered some 30,000 feet above the planet.
But there was a catch:
150 people. 97 different options. That's a 9.354306 x 10-297 chance of everyone instinctively agreeing. Or, as explained to me by our brilliant Director of Intel, "that's worse odds than if you put every planet in the universe in a bag, and picked one out, and it happened to be Earth."
Which I think means the odds are pretty bad.
Fortunately, the passengers were given some time to talk among themselves and figure out a plan.
The passengers immediately turned to their neighbors in the seats beside them then reached across the center aisle to state their case for Anchorage or Aguadilla or Albuquerque or wherever else they were hankering to go.
Although most people were on board for some international travel, there were some passengers who had personal reasons pulling them toward domestic destinations — and some of them didn't have passports, further complicating the international issue.
And still the clock kept ticking down toward their deadline. For all the gains that certain individuals had made in convincing others over to their side — and despite the obvious incentive that everyone only wins if they all agree to compromise — the passengers on this JetBlue Flight 603 were soon trapped in a stalemate: Costa Rica or Turks and Caicos?
Within only minutes to spare — and with some stubborn minds still holding tightly to the convictions of their preferred tropical destination — a few individuals even rose to their feet to address the assembled masses with grandiose speeches!
Things were definitely heating up.
As the plane approached its point of descent, the passengers cast their ballots. Would they vote in favor of the greater good? Or would self-interest rule over mutual benefit?
Attention passengers: We interrupt this melodramatic retelling of a delightful social experiment to offer an insightful bit of Real Talk™. Please fasten your seatbelts as we could experience some turbulence:
It's understandably easier to get people to cooperate for a free vacation getaway than about health care or national defense or economic security or general social welfare.
But why is that? Why do temporary leisure activities inspire greater empathy and teamwork than our long-term happiness as individuals and as a society?
Because if 150 unsuspecting passengers can find a way to come together for the sake of a Costa Rican getaway, then there's no reason that the rest of our country can't do the same.
Of course the passengers ultimately united for the greater good. Why wouldn't they?
Maybe you were on that flight and you really, really wanted to go to Tahoe. That's cool. But what's more important: You going to Tahoe or you and everyone else getting a free vacation, even if it's not exactly where you want to go?
As hard as it is, sometimes you need to stop worrying about legroom and settle for that tropical vacation for the benefit of everyone around you. Because that's better than not going anywhere at all.
OK, so maybe it's not a perfect metaphor. But you get the idea.
Check out JetBlue's whole exciting social experiment below: