The New Fear Is All Around



Yesterday morning I boarded an Easyjet flight in Barcelona, packed because it’s a long weekend there, and two well-spoken smart Millennials sat beside me. We were taxiing out to the runway when one of them got out of his seat and asked to see a crew member. He then insisted on getting off without saying why.

The plane was halted, his mystified friend accompanied him, but the cause of the problem still wasn’t clear. The Guardia Civil boarded the plane and police cars arrived. Meanwhile, the stewardess started searching the overhead lockers, then taking up all the seats around me, looking for a bag.

It transpired that the Millennial had overheard a comment passed between three Muslim guys in the next rows and was seized by a terrorist panic attack. The Muslims had their passports taken and checked, and were then taken off the plane along with the original two. Then an American family panicked and demanded to be let off the plane as well.

The panic spread, and it was decided to return the plane to the stand and empty it. We waited in the terminal and eventually, after a total search of every section of the plane was conducted, we set off for London minus five passengers.

This had the eerie effect of duplicating the opening of the first ‘Final Destination’ film, but the flight was fine, and made less painful by the EasyJet crew, who were superb, and remind me why I rate this airline so highly (so long as you never fly on Friday nights, after the aircraft has been through French air space and racked up massive delays).

The Millennial had seemed normal, calm, bookish, but a stray remark had thrown his world upside down. In his panic he caused hundreds of people to miss their connections, the airline to be fined and delays to knock on throughout the network.

Fear is irrational. Conquering it is a skill that needs to be learned. It’s a problem that must be affecting many of today’s young. Footballers are now having to be taught how to fall, having never fallen over in a school playground in their lives. We grew up playing violent street games and rarely returned without scabs or bruises. Similarly I was aware of death and illness, and the perils of fighting, being bullied or having accidents, all of which I was encouraged to sort out for myself. Questioning strangers and conducting general face-to-face conversations was the norm.

I can’t be annoyed at the panicking passenger. He sat on the tarmac with his face turned from the flight, clearly mortified by what he had done. He lives in a world that has cosseted and kept him at a distance from experience, so that he rarely has to sort out his own problems.

At Victoria Underground Station, when conditions are so horrendous that the platforms regularly need to be shut because of overcrowding, there is no fear because people can take action and choose not to use the place. But the threat of terrorism – something Londoners have lived with all their lives because of the long history of IRA atrocities in the capital – worries Millennials more than most. Perhaps they are the first generation who have grown up expecting their actions to have no consequences.

15 comments on “The New Fear Is All Around”

  1. Davem says:

    I can empathise with this article.

    Having spent my first 18 years being brought up in a council estate in Charlton, South East London, we had little fear about anything, possessing what was colloquially known as ‘street-sense’.

    There does seem to be far more nannying and cosseting over the last couple of decades in an attempt to make life safer. But, as you have identified, it can go too far.

  2. Vincent C says:

    I’m with Davem. I grew up in West Norwood and Brixton and went to school in Battersea. From the first day in primary school, which I do remember, and before, we learned to take care of ourselves. Parents were there when needed, of course, as were older brothers and sisters, but one would rarely dream of taking one’s problems to them – just too embarrassing to have to admit to not not being able to take care of oneself. And the flip side was that one would also not dream either of “making a fuss” or burdening or disturbing anyone else with one’s problems.

  3. Jackie Hayles says:

    A symptom of this fear, which you so rightly state is worse for younger people, is the ubiquitous wearing of lanyards to identify people as members of organisations or institutions: us rather than them. I am repeatedly told that they make us all safer somehow, but I fail to perceive the menace which supposedly surrounds us all the time. I always think of The Masque of the Red Death, where the terror lurks within.

  4. Brooke says:

    And we don’t know what else the Millennial passenger has experienced that is triggering fear. This event may have been set off by a flash back, an association with what he thought he overheard, or some association that creates racial fear. As an black person in the United States, I am aware of reactions when people start to enter a transit bus that originates in the black community but serves the center city area. Many just stop in their tracks and get off.

    Sorry about the delayed flight…

  5. Brooke says:

    BTW, similar happened to me in London during the 80’s on train from London to suburbs. Two of the passengers got into fear mode when a dark gentleman carrying a brief case came aboard. The train was stopped, the man was detained and searched. He was an Italian professor on his way to visit friends. No Millennials on that train.

  6. snowy says:

    ‘Millies’ seem to have grown up in a world packed with rules, can’t do that, can’t say that, can’t think this way, etc. Baffling.

    There used to be much fewer rules:

    1) Don’t get caught.
    2) If caught don’t dob your friends in.
    That was most of it*.

    There were ten rules in a book that men in frocks were very keen on, but by the time you had learned all those, it quickly became apparent that these were being broken all the time. A huge waste of effort, when you could have been outside playing in some mud**.

    [*Oh, and something about ‘yellow snow’.]

    [**Mud was ‘big’ back then. There were even songs about it.]

  7. Helen Martin says:

    At 74 I can trip and fall on a sidewalk with no ill effects. I learned to fall years ago. “You got yourself in there so you can get yourself out” was a favourite phrase. Yes, we learned to look after ourselves. The downside was that serious problems a child cannot handle weren’t reported.
    Parents drive their kids to school here and yesterday I received on facebook the results at our neighbourhood school. A parents’ SUV was blocking traffic and when she was asked to move she yelled at her daughter, swore at the person requesting her to move, clouted her daughter for not moving fast enough and rushed out of the spot without looking. This tale was answered by several people with other similar incidents, all involving swearing. When I told my husband he replied that he had seen this sort of thing at the school when his walk took him past the school at dismissal time. No one responded to my comment that the kids would be safer walking home with their friends than being picked up by their violent, self centred and potty mouthed parents.

  8. Vivienne says:

    All too true. Worked in London at the time of IRA bombs and walked past a shop doorway where one went off later. You were alert on the trains but didn’t show it. As a child I would certainly not have admitted to any sort of fear – you just got on with it. When a boy tried to start a fire in a wood some of us were going through, we were worried we wouldn’t get out but probably more worried that our parents would find we were there in the first place. Have recently been quite scared confronting a herd of bullocks in a field, but humans are a bit more reasonable.

  9. Brian Evans says:

    Everyone is now cossetted and “Nannied”. Some schools don’t even allow conkers anymore due to health and safety. I’m afraid it’s all due to the compensation culture rather than councils actually caring about people. The latest example is the case of the bonfire party not being allowed in Birkenhead as they couldn’t get enough stewards.

    Having lived and worked in London during the IRA bombings, I certainly didn’t go around worrying about it, despite a car bomb going off outside our block of flats were we were living. It was Sat night and I was getting ready to go out. Had I have left a bit earlier I would have been blown to smithereens. We were evacuated to a hotel in Bloomsbury and my main memory of the night is that the “jobsworths” in the hotel would not let us buy a drink as we were non-resident and it was after hours. And this was nothing like the Blitz which my parents lived through. Nothing would have stopped them going out to a dance on Sat night. The Grafton, in Liverpool if anyone remembers! So I’ve no sympathy with the man on the flight, only pity, as he’s an immature pathetic wuss who needs to grow up.

  10. Dear Helen,
    Thanks for the morning chuckle. In school days I never had to take a bus or was driven. A nice brisk walk to and from school was my way. As for potty mouth in front of youngsters. Well that just wasn’t tolerated. As a Boomer the freedom we enjoyed is just a memory. Cheers to you. d

  11. SteveB says:

    I also was in London during the IRA campaign and I -was- scared. I think most people were. Especially late at night walking past big parked lorries, or sometimes on the tube when there was a suitcase and you couldnt see who it belonged to. I did see a couple of explosions also, the second one was huge and I had to walk through what must half been half a mile of broken glass. There were bombs every couple of weeks so it’s hard to say it wasnt scary. I met someone who had seen the aftermath of one of the pub bombings in the 70s and it was a scene from hell.
    So in summary Im not so convinced that human nature did change, and people were for sure scared back then too, and gave false alarms and all the rest.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    We are more cossetted, but it does save lives, the number of people run down by drunk drivers, we even had songs to encourage such behaviour. As to the child being beaten & sworn at, people may have disapproved of the swearing but would have encouraged the beating. I remember at school we were regularly beaten, a friend was hit round the head by a teacher for smiling in class. We also have people with mental health problems now who never reported bullying, or people not reporting health problems until it was too late to cure them.

    As for panic, it has always happened, Orson Welles? We had moral panics, video nasties, talking to a German friend the same thing happened there and now some films are not available still (some of the band films have not been re-released as nobody thinks it worth paying the censors to put them out, market forces.)

    The new moral panic is porn on the internet, the theory is young people now think relationships are about sex and not about love and emotion. In my day relationships were not about sex or emotion, just getting married and making babies and woe betide you if you didn’t.

    If a delayed flight is the price for a safer world I’m happy to pay it. It’s a good sign people are not used to physical danger or how to deal with it.


  13. John Griffin says:

    The only differences for me (born 1951) are the laws restricting what anyone can do (I’d have been ASBO’d to hell and back even as a preteen), the appalling compensation culture (which is what restricts school activities as Health & Safety doesn’t – ) and the astonishing spread of the ‘entitlement culture’, once the province of a few rich people.

  14. Ken Mann says:

    Happened to me once on the tube just after 7/7. An elderly black gentleman coped with his fear by praying loudly in an unfamiliar (to most) language while clutching his bag tightly to his chest. He was quickly alone. Of course he could just have been a graduate of the lifemanship college.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    I think what Ken Mann says is what’s behind a lot of the trouble. We don’t want to find out what is bothering the “elderly black gentleman” or do anything to alleviate anyone’s fear. We’ve had a number of gang related shootings and I can only imagine what tonight may bring. That’s the thing, though, I *can* imagine it.
    Hallowe’en costumes are being censored by school boards (because schools are having in-class events and no one wants to have to respond to a law suit.) No cowboys & “Indians”, no wild man of (anywhere), no harem girls or geishas, no culturally specific anything. If I had to create a costume this year I’d use a fishing net and tie plastic bottles, plastic toys, and those things that fasten half dozens of beer cans together, and go as the mid-ocean garbage pile. Doesn’t get much scarier than that.

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