The Incredible Power Of The Individual

Or, How A Guitar Cost United Airlines $180 Million

You’ve got to love irony… especially when it’s mixed with Stubris (a term coined by our own Alan Speakman which he defines as is an act of stupidity-fueled hubris). 

It’s the mixture that causes the mighty to be humbled; the undefeated to suffer an unexpected humiliating loss.

It’s Barack Obama with his insistence that whether “we the people” want something, if it’s his will, it shall be done.

It’s the hubris of John Edwards, Rod Blagojevich, Mike Tyson, Gary Hart, Mel Gibson all discovering they are not infallable  although they’ve lived their lives as if they were. In each case, their “stubris” has cost them dearly.

The corporate world has also had its share of embarrassing losses, the result of lawsuits (W R Grace) or simply bad management (Digital Equipment Corporation) all stemming from, that’s right, stubris.  But seldom has a huge corporation been humbled in such a wide-spread public manner by a single customer who simply wanted them to do the right thing.  Until now.

Dave Carroll

United Airlines, meet your biggest headache: Dave Carroll and his $3,500 guitar that has (so far) cost you $180 million.

I’m writing about his story, because I think it’s a metaphor for what even a single individual who is in the right can do if he has conviction (and, in Dave’s case, a good sense of humor and fantastic songwriting skills). The results can change an entire industry, an entire nation, or the entire world.

If you’re a regular here at Grand Rants, you’ve undoubtedly seen our coverage of how United Airlines damaged Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor Guitar and then steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for the repairs. For the benefit of our new readers, however, you can find Stoutcat’s articles  here and here. Go ahead and take a look. It’s well worth it, and we’ll wait…

OK. Now that we’re all up to speed, Carroll, part of a Canadian country band called “Sons of Maxwell,” simply wanted United Airlines to pay the $1,200 to repair his $3,500 Taylor guitar which was damaged by grossly negligent baggage handling. United decided to pass on the opportunity to “do the right thing” in an attempt to avoid paying for the guitar’s repair.

Expensive decision.

Dave tried working with United. Honest he did. And when their final answer was, in effect, “Sorry, you’re just out of luck,” he decided to write three songs and post them on Youtube (the second of three has just been posted). If there had been an iota of intelligence in the upper level management at United, they’d have sent Dave a check with some roses with a note that said, “You had me at ‘Youtube’.”

Since posting the original song,  “United Breaks Guitars” it’s been viewed by millions of people… people who fly and will now think twice about choosing United.

But the biggest impact is that as Dave’s video “went viral” on the Internet and United got inundated with calls from angry consumers, a not-so-funny thing happened to their stock: It plunged in value by 10%. The net loss to United’s stockholders totaled $180 million according to an article in The London Times. And it could have been avoided by simply doing the right thing.

The metaphor is this: Given a chance, big government or big corporate management will usually choose to do what’s in their own best interest, regardless of the impact to the consumer/constituent.  

The simple solution for citizens and consumers is, “Don’t let them get away with it.” And you accomplish this by making every effort to work within the established guidelines . When you’ve exhausted all efforts and are still not satisfied with the results — and if you’re still convinced you are in the right — then it’s time to do things in a creative manner. Sometimes this can be done within the law, but sometimes it requires the guts to perform civil disobedience in order to accomplish something for the greater good.

TianasquareThink of what a single young man accomplished in Tiananmen square 20 years ago, facing down a tank in an act the world would largely note and long remember. 

Over one million people had come to mourn the death of  pro-market, pro-democracy, and anti-corruption official, Hu Yaobang and to protest the government’s dismissal of Yaobang. The group protest led mostly by students and intellectuals, eventually resulted in a government crackdown on public demonstrations. This, in turn, resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Suddenly, the unknown man took a stand in front of a line of tanks. When the tanks tried to go around him, he shifted his position to block them again. Eventually, the man left the area never to be seen again. But in that moment, he defined the power of what one man can do.

rosa-parksThink of Rosa Parks, revered as the mother of the modern day civil rights movement. “Tired of giving in” to racist demands that blacks move to the back of the bus, on December 1, 1955, she simply decided enough was enough and she would not give up her seat to a white person as ordered by the bus driver.  For her efforts, she was arrested. She wasn’t the first black person to refuse, but she was secretary of the Montgomery Alabama chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (although she maintained that she took this action as a private citizen). Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was, in part, organized by a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. And from this incident, by a lone black woman who had the guts to stand up for “the right thing,” a nation would be forced to examine its own behavior towards a major sector of its citizens. The Civil Rights era was born.

john-walsh_fsThink of John Walsh, a doting father of a precious 6 year-old son who was abducted and brutally murdered by a pedophile. After discovering the hard way that America had no organized approach to the problem, rather than letting his son become just another statistic, he dedicated himself towards addressing the lack of child protection legislation nationally.   Through his efforts, there are hundreds of child-protection laws nationally and federally that, while not perfect, go a long way towards making this a safer country for children to grow up in. Most states now require stringent background requests for workers who have any contact with children.  Walsh secured the federal funding to start the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, DC, and for over 20 years has been the host of Fox network’s “America’s Most Wanted.”   I was honored to work with John for several years and can say from personal experience, he is the epitome of what one man can accomplish when he puts his mind to it.

Erin_BrokovichThink of Erin Brockovich who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her story was an inspiration to what the spirit of one determined person can accomplish to protect her community against the poisoning of the public water supply by an indifferent corporation. Her efforts led to a $333 million settlement which is, to date, the largest settlement in US history for a direct-action lawsuit.

And it’s not just limited to certain people or specific causes. It’s all of us who need to be Rosa Parks, John Walsh, Erin Brockovich, the Tiananmen Square “tank man” and, yes, even Dave Carroll in this world today. It’s that spirit that makes America the greatest place to live.

We’ve seen the power of their commitment and what it can bring. It should be no surprise when you think back to what a bunch of colonists did when they were unhappy with England’s taxation without representation.

And that’s why those of us opposed to President Obama’s attempted takeover/makeover of democracy and the free enterprise system do what we do. We stand up for what is right; we speak out for what is right.

And that is why we will win. 

Gerry Ashley


11 Responses to The Incredible Power Of The Individual

  1. David Secord says:

    I agree with all of your examples except for Erin Brokovich. She only stands as an example of the ability of a well-funded law firm can extort huge amounts of money from a large corporation to enrich themselves, and allow one individual to be their shill. It took some years, but we finally came up with the ability to measure hexavalent chronium levels accurately, and once able to do so, were able to prove that the levels in the water had no involvement in the illnesses off the people. Very much like the extortion of money from Dow-Corning over non-existant connections between silicone breast implants and illnesses in the women who received them, the Erin Brockovich case is another example of good cinema based on hype and absurdity, preying on gullibility and with some attorney greed mixed into it. I’m surprised John Edwards didn’t get his name into those cases somehow, as his entire career has been based upon fraud, theater and masking of facts by emotional deceit. I don’t blame you for not knowing about the fraud of the Pacific Gas and Electric case and Erin Brockovich, as the news is repleat with the screaming headlines of the “crime” and mute on the apologies when it turns out to be fantasy.
    Best wishes.

    • Gerry Ashley says:

      David, thank you for your comment and the additional information.

      I agree that apologies for incorrect information on a page one story usually and up on page 32 (just under the classified ads for used steel wool). I’d like to see the data you refer to on that some time if it’s available to the public.

      That said, if that information wasn’t available at the time of the incidents and resulting trial, I can’t fault Brockovich either. She was going with the data that was available at the time, was she not? Given her motivation of protecting children, I think she did what she thought was right given the information she had at the time. And if she’s not the editor of the newspaper, she can’t be held accountable for the placement of the apology.a

      She has since gone on to other causes and is now doing motivational work and speaking engagements. I would hope that gets weighed into an overall score.

      Thanks again for adding some useful information. I believe very strongly that it’s imperative to study all available data to all sides of an issue.


  2. Kim Cowan says:

    This article makes me really mad. How can you take something great like Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” and turn it into an ugly right-wing argument against President Obama??? Your argument isn’t even true!! Attempted takeover of democracy??? I think not. If you really believe that to be true then you are badly mistaken at best. President Obama wants to improve the lives of all Americans, not take over the free enterprise system. Stop spreading republican lies.

  3. Gerry Ashley says:


    Thanks for your reply. You’re missing the point totally. I am NOT “turning” Dave Carroll’s video into anything. Perhaps you were absent from school the day they taught the meaning of the word metaphor. Look it up if you want to get the gist of this article.

    Whether you are pro-Obama or against is not the issue, AT ALL. The article is about people who stand up for what they believe in and refuse to accept failure as the final outcome.

    Rosa Parks wouldn’t accept it and she helped launch the civil rights movement.

    John Walsh refused to accept being told “there’s nothing we can do about your son’s disappearance and look what he’s accomplished.

    As for the topic of Barack Obama, this blog is neither Republican nor Democrat. It’s about what we, the writers, believe is right or wrong in this country. If you take a look at the bulk of articles in this blog, you will see that there is very little support for President Obama’s actions. And we don’t just repeat phrases thrown at the masses by a PR firm hired by any candidate. We document each and every criticism. You would be wise to think twice about trying to sell your accolades here. They sinply don’t hold water. And we don’t really have the time to engage in exchanges with people who can only repeat ANY candidate’s slogans. If you want to do some real HOMEWORK on the President, you will understand the reasons we write as we do. Thanks again.

  4. Destiny101 says:

    I need pics of what Rosa parks wears.

  5. Destiny101 says:

    not all those other people

  6. ALLIYAH says:

    rosa hade in spira me to what is right and what to fight for so thanks alot for this

    • Gerry Ashley says:

      Alliyah, Thank you for your comment. Maybe someday, we’ll all catch on that doing the right thing is the only way to live our lives. There’s so much we can all gain from when we embrace other cultures rather than rebuke them. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to search for others who “get it” and enjoy their company. And share. And learn. And be better for it.

  7. […] PT dịch từ […]

  8. japanologist says:

    Dave Carroll’s video is a metaphor? I don’t think you really understand the meaning of the concept ‘metaphor.’ You probably meant to say it was an example or a symbol of something. (In fairness to you, though, I presume you missed the class where they explained what metaphor means.) You’re welcome to believe Barack Obama blows goats, but to say he’s undertaking a “takeover/makeover of democracy and the free enterprise system” makes absolutely no sense. Just none at all. Only a complete ignoramus could think such thing–perhaps the kind of ignoramus who doesn’t know what the word ‘metaphor’ means.

  9. Thanks for writing an article, it made me learn a lot about law!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s