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THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
By Joe Brancatelli
December 15, 2011 -- I have said this before. I will say it again. I will say it whenever anyone asks. I will say it for as long as I have this or any other platform.
When all is said and done, we business travelers live lives of incredible privilege.
Even when our lives on the road stink, in the cosmic totality of things, our complaints are astoundingly trivial. The airlines are stupid. Hotels charge too much. Security lines are too long. The flight is late. The in-flight meal has disappeared. Frequent flyer miles are hard to cash. Upgrades are hard to get. There are a million fees. The hotel is too far away from our appointment. The limo driver was late. The rental car was old and smelled of smoke. The mobile-phone companies are ludicrous. The laptops crashed and destroyed the data.
And I have said this before, too: When all is said and done, business travelers also live lives of denial.
We have mastered the art of looking away when we see homeless people camped out at an airport terminal because that's where they can find a few hours of warmth. We can drive through a slum en route to our business appointments and never think twice about the kids who are ill-fed. We can even turn a blind eye to the street person sleeping on a bed of cardboard in the doorway across the street from the lobby of our cozy hotel featuring the branded bedding.
Our ability to deny is sometimes so complete that we need to have it thrust back in our face before we can regain a sense of reality.
I have often told you of a woman who claimed that there were never homeless people in Hawaii. She really thought that the homeless she saw in Waikiki were vagrants who had been given plane tickets to Honolulu by the city fathers of mainland cities. It was only after I drew an absurd and ridiculous word picture--homeless folks, black plastic bags in the overhead bin, being offered the chicken or the beef on the flight over the Pacific--that she realized the folly of her thinking.
This year, I know, the denial is much harder to come by. After all, no one can have seen pictures of the earthquakes in Japan or Turkey or New Zealand and deny. You can't have seen the results of the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest or the weird killer storms in the East and be in denial. There are brutal famines in Africa again and they are made worse by sectarian violence. There were killer floods and landslides in China. You can't deny it.
This year, the problem isn't just denial. It's exhaustion. We've all been asked to go to the charity well so often lately that we're mentally drained. Who has the energy to keep giving? How much is enough? Again?
I don't have the answers to those questions. I only have the same question I have every year: How are you going to get beyond your denial and its new partner, exhaustion?
As you sit there, in the midst of another holiday season, staring at these words on the screen of a costly computer, I ask only: What are you doing to help?
It's not my place to preach. You don't surf here to be lectured. And, God knows, I have no right. I live my life on the road in the same haze of privilege and denial and exhaustion as most business travelers.
But I do know the reason for this season. It isn't the presents we are giving, it's about the life we are living. I swiped those words from a Patti La Belle song that I've always loved, but the sentiment is real.
We business travelers lead lives of privilege. And even if we've lived other years in denial and are mentally, emotionally and financially exhausted this year, we shouldn't let the holiday season pass without giving something back.
Give back love. Give back cash. For that matter, give back miles and points.
Every airline frequent flyer program has a mileage-donation program. This year, United Mileage Plus and Continental OnePass are even doing a 10-million-mile charity giveaway. Hotels and charge cards have donation schemes, too. Just call the service center and ask how to do it and which charitable organizations they support. Or check directly with your favorite charity. Or do the simplest thing of all: Surf over to the MileDonor site. There is every link you need to contribute.
It has been a tough year. We are tired, exhausted and drained. Everyone--flyers, flight attendants and pilots--are counting down the number of flights left this year. We're all looking forward to a couple of days of rest and relaxation at our favorite place: home.
And that's the point. We have a home. Maybe we don't see if often enough, but we have one. There's food in the fridge, sheets on a bed, TV and Internet and computers and iPads and music players and maybe even a family to reintroduce yourself to.
That, to me, counts as a life of incredible privilege. And it comes with a responsibility to remember the reason for the season.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.