Remember back in the day of not so very long ago when flying was a pretty predictable experience and our only concern was possible delays or cancellations? Now we may worry for our safety, not from a crash but from a clash of opinions erupting in physical violence. Some passengers right now are angry, belligerent, and on the attack. Apparently, there have been 3400 reports of unruly passengers, 150 in the past week alone. These are causing more delays and more frustration. In response, airlines are cutting off alcohol service, and threatening huge fines and serious prison time. Whoa! People!
What is going on with all this inflight fighting?
Frustration over delays? Alcohol? Those have been part of the flying experience since air travel began. They add fuel to the fire but aren’t the cause of it. Unfortunately, there is little airlines can do to alleviate the core problems because it’s not about flying, it’s about what’s been happening to us on the ground.
Many of us have been cooped up so long we may be eager to travel, but may not be prepared for the experience of suddenly being in such cramped quarters with strangers, and realizing that if we need to leave, too bad, we’re stuck for the duration. Yikes! That alone could create inflight challenges.
But it’s not just about COVID. There’s another kind of virus that’s taken hold in the US and probably elsewhere. For quite a while now, many of us have been self-segregating based on our beliefs. We purposely live in like-minded communities, choose friends on social media who agree with us, and tend to be less tolerant of those with different opinions. We may even villanize them, seeing them as the cause of our suffering. So when passengers get on a plane, it may be the first time they are in such close proximity for an extended period with people who hold opposite opinions and who hold them just as passionately as they do.
Masks on! Masks off! Vax yes! Vax no!
There are mandatory requirements to wear masks on planes that make flying even less pleasant. But for some, it is not just a necessary inconvenience for public health. It is seen as an attack on their liberty. These are always emphatic opinions, backed up with rage. Where I live, a neighbor posted on Nextdoor that she and her toddler were in an empty playground not wearing masks (at a time our state’s mandatory mask-wearing rule had been lifted) and a woman yelled at her for it, and then threw dog-poop at her! Now her little girl is terrified of going back to the park.
No one is wishy-washy on these subjects because no one is wishy-washy when it comes to a threat to their survival. The ‘lizard brain’ leaps in with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. For people who willingly wear masks and get vaccinated, that survival is physical. For those who are against masks and vaccinations, it’s the survival of core values that they think are being threatened. And they extrapolate that those who willingly wear masks are making a political statement that attacks those core values. So when a flight attendant, as required by law, asks a passenger to wear a mask, that is not received as a reasonable request for the safety of all. It’s a direct attack on their beliefs.
Can you see how our metaphor of veils could help us to understand this better? (To review, we each have many veils, each one woven by threads of thoughts we have on specific topics, beliefs, relationships, and our sense of identity. Read more about veils) Our minds don’t live in isolation. Even holed up at home during COVID, we were exposed to many other people’s ideas, and those threads get woven into our veils.
How might this all have been different even thirty years ago?
Back before the internet, we all relied on the same few news sources. Those news sources weren’t perfect. The editors and reporters had their own veils that blinded them, causing them to shape the news, skew the angle, and leave some parts of the story untold. But people all received the same basic facts. How they felt about those facts might vary, but the facts themselves were consistent.
Fast forward to the fast-paced ‘information age’ when for every kind of worldview veil, there is a ‘news’ source eager to confirm it and embroider threads of thought and emotion to keep people entangled for the benefit of their corporate sponsors. It always comes back to the money, doesn’t it?
Given so much diversity of sources, we each choose the one that speaks our language and confirms our views. Then we repeat or retweet what we hear or read with fervid conviction as if we had researched it ourselves. We may even feel such loyalty to our source that it gains entry into our highly coveted self-identity veil. This is a major win for the source because now we are so vested, we will go to battle to defend against whatever or whoever that source labels as an enemy of the ‘truth’.
In an earlier dharma post, I mentioned how we’ve been played. These mid-air eruptions of passenger outrage are the outcome. And here’s the clincher: the violent outbursts in the sky captured on passenger videos become part of their news offerings that keep people hooked.
So what can we do?
We may think we are immune to such manipulation, but that belief is just another thread in a veil of identity. However, we can become more aware of it. We can research wiser media choices, choosing at least one that has no profit motive and one from somewhere else in the world, to at least try to get balanced views. We can cultivate a don’t-know mind instead of assuming everything we hear is the whole truth and weaving it into our veil of world views, and maybe even our view of ourselves. We can limit the time we give news with its incessant focus on all the ills of the world. In a democracy we need to be informed voters, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a lopsided view of a world, a world that is fundamentally beautiful and filled with wonder and kindness when we drop our veils. We can practice having civil conversations around shared interests with people who don’t agree with us on every little thing, really listening rather than trying to sell our views.
I am optimistic, cockeyed though I may be, that our sense of community will broaden, our fears will lessen, and our sense of compassion for ourselves and all beings will help us soften the veils that blind us to the vibrant gift of life we share in this moment, just as it is.