In Self We Trust

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?

Inconspicuously absent: friendship, magic. Imagecredit: howstuffworks.com

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.

Permission to freak the fuck out granted. Image credit: soadhead.com

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.

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5 thoughts on “In Self We Trust

  1. When I was younger, I ALWAYS wanted to be in control of the situation when things go awry. And this is coming out of a self-proclaimed champion of sloth. In retrospect, I realized that this isn’t due to a desire for control. Rather, it stemmed from my lack of trust in other people’s competence nor ability to handle the situation any better. Can I really be blamed? I am usually the calmest one of the bunch, so it would only make sense for me to dismiss anyone else as untrustworthy.

    As I got older though, I decided to pick my battles more wisely. I realized that it is a bit more liberating when I renounce that desire for control and place my trust in someone else who have a better idea how to handle the situation. Besides, it reduces stress when I take a chance and place my bets on others and almost lean on them. Now that isn’t to say that I don’t take control at all. It’s just because I have a better sense of when to control or submit, I become much more focused on what I can do rather than worrying about what I cannot. (That can be fixed by diversifying the skills, but that’s a story for another day.)

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    1. I know that my biggest struggle for this comes at the workplace. I’ve had success in nearly every position or job I’ve had, so when I see people doing the job I once had and doing that job poorly, it’s difficult for me to not want to take control. I’m getting far better about it than I used to be. With that said, it’s still a struggle.

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  2. I think it’s entirely dependent on the situation. Typically, I like to be in control of a situation when things go awry. However, there are times where the situation is so off-the-damn-wall that you could be in control of it and still lose your shit. You honestly never know how you will react until you’re in a given situation.

    Example – a few years ago, I was in a bar with my sister and some friends. We were shooting pool, having some drinks, celebrating my birthday…nice, relaxed evening. About 90 minutes into said evening, a guy (who had, up until about 15 minutes beforehand had been shooting pool at the table next to ours, trying to make a move on my very uninterested sister) walked into the bar and started shooting the place up. With a legit gun. Thankfully, given that he was high as a kite and drunk as a skunk, he had piss-poor aim and no one was seriously hurt, but still, guy in bar shooting place up. The last thing I CLEARLY remember was that I was walking up to the bar to get another drink and all of the sudden, there is a gun in my face. In my face. After that, nothing. From what I’ve been told, I stood there for a good 2-3 seconds staring at this kid like a deer in the headlights while he’s screaming at me with a gun in my face, until another bar patron pushed me out of the way (and saved me from getting shot in the face). I then got up, ran down a short flight of steps, ran AWAY from the perfectly good exit that everyone else was running out of, tackled my sister to the ground and pulled her under a pool table to hide. We stayed there until Shooter Dude stopped shooting (about 15 shots later) and the police arrived and told us we could come out. Apparently, I spent the entire time under the pool table saying the Lord’s Prayer (which, in all honesty, I can’t tell you all the words to today), holding my sister’s hand, and trying to calm down the people that were hiding under the table next to us and convince them NOT to run into a hail of bullets.

    So, apparently, if I have a gun pointed at me, I gawk at the shooter. If someone is shooting in my direction, I turn into Captain America and tackle innocent civilians singlehandedly. So not what I would have anticipated.

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  3. Learning how to cope when I am not in control has been a huge thing that I’ve had to learn, and I’m still not fully there. A lot of it is just reminding myself that there is nothing I can do to change the outcome or affect what is going to happen. I just have to roll with things as they come. Sometimes, I’ve been able to do that pretty well (like when I was possibly facing identity theft), other times, like say when we’re under a tornado warning or watch, I still lose it and can’t find a way to calm myself. I get really anxious when I’m not in control, and I tend to get panic attacks. My whole life, stability has only come when I can control things, so when I can’t, things tend not to go so well.

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    1. I may have to revisit this post after going on my honeymoon. The anxiety I dealt with while going to lunch every single day makes me feel more strongly that I’m not good at letting others have control of things.

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