Izumi Jones via Unsplash
Picture the following story: A young mother is on a plane getting ready for takeoff, bouncing her bubbly baby girl on her lap.
But this is no quick weekend getaway. Kelsey Zwick, the mother, is headed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with Lucy, one of her 11-month twin daughters. There, Lucy will be treated for a severe lung condition that resulted from a complication during pregnancy.
Suddenly, a flight attendant approaches Kelsey with an unusual proposition:
Someone would like to switch seats with her and baby.
Wait a second, you’re thinking. Who would possibly want to make a young mother and her sick baby move after they finally got settled into their seat?
But here’s the catch: The passenger is sitting in first class. He wants to switch with the woman so that she and her baby girl will have a more comfortable trip.
The generous passenger was recently revealed by UK online newspaper the Daily Mail to be 46-year-old Jason Kunselman, an industrial engineer from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Per the Daily Mail:
Jason had been flying back to his home state after working on a project in Florida when he saw Kelsey Zwick, with her 11-month-old baby daughter Lucy, waiting to board the plane to Philadelphia.
‘She had an oxygen machine for her daughter. It couldn’t be put over her head and she had to have it with her the whole time. It was so touching seeing the little girl with her oxygen. I was tearing up as I saw her,’ Kunselman told DailyMail.com.
Kunselman says he asked a flight attendant if she thought “the young lady with the baby” would be more comfortable in his seat. After the flight attendant made the offer, both Kelsey and Jason teared up with emotion.
“I just hoped that she had a better flight with more room,” Kunselman said.
In a Facebook post, Zwick said she didn’t get to thank the generous passenger properly. So, she reached out to “the man in 2D” to deliver the following message:
Sooo… thank you. Not just for the seat itself but for noticing. For seeing us and realizing that maybe things are not always easy. For deciding you wanted to show a random act of kindness to US. It reminded me how much good there is in this world.
The stunning act of kindness has since gone viral, but this is more than just a feel-good story.
It’s a real-life example of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions in order to reach a goal, or to help yourself (or others). It includes the remarkable quality of empathy, the ability to connect with another person’s thoughts and feelings.
But to exercise empathy in the fullest sense requires not only to understand others’ feelings, but to take action.
It would have been easy for the first class passenger to sympathize with the young mother and her baby…and then move on with his life.
But that’s not what he did. Instead, Kunselman took time to think about the young mother’s situation. “She was so tiny,” he said. As he continued to imagine what the young mother must be going through, he was moved to do something about it.
This is what is described as “compassionate empathy”: Beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings, you are moved to help, however you can.
One reason this story is going viral is because the world in its current condition is in dire need of more empathy. With our political and ideological differences, it’s necessary to remember that we are all humans, with the same basic needs and feelings.
And that when we see someone in need of help, we should do what we can to help. Because when you do so, an amazing thing happens: You motivate others to do the same thing.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Kelsey Zwick.
“I can’t wait to tell Lucy [about your gesture] someday,” Zwick wrote on Facebook. “In the meantime… we will pay it forward. AA 558 passenger in seat 2D, we truly feel inspired by your generosity.”
Now, that’s the power of empathy.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.