I'm not a fan of heights, so during a recent family trip to Brighton, I was less than thrilled when the family suggested taking a 'flight' on the British Airways i360 viewing tower … all 138 metres of it, straight up! Wanting to set a good example to my young daughter, I agreed and we were soon entering the 'concourse'. BA had designed the place to feel like the first-class lounge of an airport – classical music playing, smartly dressed stewardesses, bubbling flutes of champagne and customs-level security.
Prior to walking through the metal detectors, I volunteered my keys, wallet and phone suggesting they hang-on to the keyring as it had a small penknife attached. Having received a cloakroom ticket we began our 'vertical flight' enjoying amazing views of Brighton seafront and beyond in dazzling winter sun. On the descent, despite slightly shaky legs, I was feeling very pleased with myself, unaware that things were about to get dicey.
Stepping safely back on terra-firma, security guards corralled me through a security tape and into a dark corridor. I was informed that the police were on their way and I would be detained here until they arrived. Unknown to me, my one-inch penknife keyring was, whilst legal to own, illegal to carry in public without legitimate cause. Apparently a safety feature on the knife, designed to prevent the blade accidentally folding closed on your fingers, classified it as a lock-knife (!?) and British Airways policy was to hold the offender and call 999 – action that is understandable at airport customs perhaps, but feels a little heavy-handed at a family tourist attraction.
Half an hour passed before two police officers entered the far end of the corridor. "Is this your knife sir?" said one, holding out his hand. It took some time before he was close enough for me to even see the tiny folded penknife in this palm. With a wry smile, I exaggerated my inspection before agreeing that it certainly looked similar.
Sadly the police don't enjoy humour and told me, with very serious facial expressions, that having broken the law they would confiscate the 'weapon' and, in recompense for the offence, I had to write a letter of apology to the 'victim'. It was unclear to me who the victim was exactly (except perhaps the tax-payer), after all, the penknife had remained folded and harmless, I had been polite and co-operative, there had been no attempt to conceal "the weapon" and, mechanics aside, the blade was only 1 inch long. I explained that I always carry a small knife and use it daily, opening plastic packaging and cardboard boxes, accessing the battery compartments on my kid's toys, that sort of thing! It would only become a 'weapon' if it were in fact used as a weapon (the same is true of a glass champagne flute), and having carried similar since I was a boy, and having not yet assaulted anyone, now in my mid-40s, I'm confident we're all relatively safe. The police officer (who incidentally was wearing a taser gun) said my reasons were not justifiable, and that the 'victim' I would be writing my letter to, was Sussex Police. All I had to do was state how sorry I was, and I could be on my way.
I explained that as a student of Nonviolent Communication, I wasn't prepared to give up my self-respect by saying I was sorry (especially as I wasn't), but I was prepared to say that I regretted the situation. Now the officer's tone got really serious "You can either write that you're sorry here, or we'll arrest you and you can say you're sorry later, at the police station, with a criminal record." Given my family were still presumably in the gift shop wondering what was going on and I didn't wish to spoil our trip further, I took the pen and paper and had the police officer recite exactly what I "had to" write. Issued with a Community Resolution Intervention Record stating what a naughty boy I am, I was eventually escorted back to the concourse and let out through the barrier – a final walk of shame, security guards, stewardesses, other members of the public all looking on.
My family had got bored waiting, bought half the gift shop and returned to our hotel room. By the time I arrived, the bed was covered in i360 souvenirs - happy memories indeed! Ironically, my wife was struggling to remove the plastic tie-tag from a cuddly toy. Instinctively I reached for my keys but remembered the penknife had been confiscated. By their own logic, I might consider that I'd been the "victim" of an armed theft! My daughter, to whom I'd originally been trying to set a good example was, on the surface, very excited by the whole event, she'd even taken photos of the police car. Beneath the jokes and mockery that would follow (all at my expense), I know her impressionable mind was busy trying to make sense of all that had happened.
The founder of Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenburg, describes how ‘domination systems’ use communication techniques which block compassion and result in anger, guilt, shame and depression. Referring to a parent forcing a child to say sorry, he explains that "When the 'sorry' is said out of that energy, out of fear of punishment, everyone will pay for it." It’s been interesting to notice how, over the weeks since this incident, I've experienced each of these four emotions, and how damaging to me and everyone around me they can be. Despite being extremely impressed by the i360 I now refer to it as a phallic merry-go-round, and I've caught myself uttering discourteous sentiments (in front of my daughter) whilst driving past police cars. Even writing this article I've reduced myself to using ugly sarcasm! Marshall was right, forcing someone to say 'sorry' under the threat of violence results, eventually, in costing everybody something!
From a Conscious Branding perspective, I find myself wondering about British Airways. Their website states they have "… an unwavering commitment to making each and every moment special for our customers." The detail I find most troubling is that all the action happened behind my back. They could have addressed the situation at the security desk when I first entered, and if they felt so strongly about it, simply invited me to leave. Instead they nodded and smiled, took my money, even offered me champagne, all whilst stealing-away my property and using it to metaphorically stab me, their customer, in the back. Their inauthentic smiles and devious actions are pieces of branding that cannot now be undone. They shape my understanding of what British Airways is. They inform me (rightly or wrongly) that this is not an organisation to trust.
As for the police, well, they've got a job to do, I get that, and I did (apparently) break a law. In a city the size of Brighton however, one assumes there are more pressing matters to attend, actual crimes warranting an emergency response. As for the 'say you're sorry or else' approach, clearly designed to belittle and berate, this inevitably results in an equivalent loss of respect from me to them. In Nonviolent Communication their action is described as a 'tragic expression of an unmet need'. They have a need for me to respect the law and those that uphold it, but their actions have achieved the opposite.
Check out Marshall Rosenburg highlight the problem in the first minute of this video. More info at www.cnvc.org