Flying typically doesn’t bother me. While I didn’t make my first flight on an airplane until I was 19 (I did get to fly in a helicopter as a birthday present when I was 11), I’ve flown on average one round trip flight per year since.
For my first few flights, landing bothered the hell out of me. My first takeoff was a bit anxious, though I got over it nearly immediately. Yet it took four or five flights to fully become okay with landing. Even when there’s turbulence in the air, I’m rarely bothered beyond a bit of air sickness. There is one sentence, however, that I heard preceding a flight last year that bothered me just a touch.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been delayed for takeoff just a touch. It would seem that one of our engines needs restarted. We’ll be getting someone out here in a few minutes, and as soon as it’s back running, we’ll be on our way.”
Really now? An engine stopped running? That doesn’t sound concerning at all. I mean, it’s not like the engine is the thing that keeps you in the air or anything, right?
In high school, my then-girlfriend and I were both in the marching band. For the entirety of my junior year’s marching band season, I served as her ride to and from football games on Fridays, using my piece of shit van to take us to the game, then take her home, then take myself home. This typically meant a 10 minute drive from her place to school, 10 back, then a 35 minute drive to my dad’s apartment (or 20 minutes if I stayed with my grandparents). Other than the pregame drive, all of this was night driving on unlit roads in the middle of nowhere.
Following one game junior year, I was taking the then-girlfriend home when the serpentine belt on my van shredded mid drive. For those (like me mostly) unfamiliar with cars, the immediate problem this cause was that we lost all electronics on the car…including headlights and tail lights. When you live in the middle of nowhere, that’s a bad thing.
The then-girlfriend did what any sane human would do. She began to immediately and uncontrollably freak the fuck out. As she should. We were obviously about to die.
My reaction, on the other hand, was much calmer. I responded by placing my other hand back on the steering wheel, stopping talking, and just trusting my driving. I wish I could say that I said something badass like “Don’t worry babe, I got this” or “Where we’re going, we don’t need lights”, however I stayed quiet. I felt in control of the situation. There was no need to say anything.
Hearing that one of our airplane’s engines had stopped working pre-takeoff…well, that’s another story. I felt far less calm. Though there was nothing I could do to help the mechanics fix the engine, I still wanted the satisfaction of knowing I was in control of the situation. I mean, I knew everything was going to be alright. There’s a reason airplane mechanics were working on the plane and not me. But that didn’t stop me from wanting the satisfaction that all was as it should be by checking everything myself.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know jack about airplane engines. What the fuck could I do to make sure everything was working? Still though, I was unnerved, seeking out control to ease my own mind.
I think that anytime we find ourselves in crisis, as humans we’ll look to find a way to try to take control of the situation to make things better. Even those who thrive off chaos tend to function better when they are the one controlling the chaos. But why do we do this? Why do we seek control? Why do we want to be the one flying the plane, even if we have no idea how to do so?
I believe it’s because we don’t want to be the person in the passenger seat flipping out because all the lights just went out. To avoid freaking out in that position, we must have a confidence — call it trust, call it faith, call it confidence, call it what you will — that everything is going to be alright. And in most cases, everything does end up alright. It’s those times when the world around us goes to hell in a hand basket that cause us to lose confidence when we don’t have control.
How do you cope with not being in control of a situation? Do you respond by wanting to take over the situation, or do you handle it in another way entirely? Sound off in the comments.