My husband was recently recounting a conversation he had with a practitioner, who in anticipation of re-opening their office had asked, “Would you like me to tell you how we are going to keep you safe?” To which my husband responded, “I do not require you to keep me safe.” To which I would add, “Nor is that something you could ever guarantee me.”
Safety. We all want to feel safe. It is in fact perhaps our most basic of all needs. And at its very best, it is something we cultivate within and offer without.
Being safe and feeling safe are a major source of conversation in the culture at the moment. As a matter of fact, it is something that has been brewing beneath the surface for many of us for what seems like forever. Given that, and all that is being revealed around what this means in practice (not words) it is incumbent upon all of us to understand what we are asking for, what we are being promised, and what is being justified in the name of safety.
Spoiler alert: No one can guarantee your safety. Not a parent. Not your spouse. Not the government. Not a mask, hand washing, tracing or vaccines. But by God how we want it. And who wouldn’t? This most primary of needs for safety and protection harkens back to childhood when you believed that it was possible that someone else could promise and deliver a guarantee of safety to you. And how well your safety needs were or were not met in childhood sets the stage for how you will perceive the world. For your capacity to determine what is safe, what is a threat, and what is real and imagined around both.
The first time I ever heard anyone talk on this was years ago while I was in the midst of a very intense emotional. physical and spiritually challenging training. At some point, as things were breaking down and people’s fears and woundings were being revealed, in their terror they began to find fault with the training. In their inability to be with what they were experiencing, they began to accuse the program director and staff of creating an unsafe environment. It was a deeply heated and emotional group exchange, as well as something we were all feeling and navigating in our own ways.
Much to my surprise and ultimate deep gratitude, instead of the director going into self-blame and acquiescing because someone had thrown down the safety card, she navigated a brilliant truth: That being, that no one else can guarantee your safety. That being, that when we are afraid and rattled, we will default to that child-like expectation. Instead, she let us know that what she was offering was a sacred container for people to come together, and that what you did within that space was up to you.
The root of “safe” from the Greek means “whole,” with the definition being “free from risk, danger, harm or injury.” And while there are certain practices and ways of being that we agree upon for the well-being of all, a guarantee of life without risk, danger, harm or injury can never be proffered. Nor should it be expected. For to wholly live is to live with the risk of being alive. And to demand safety, to use safety as a protocol in the ways we are using it, is to set us all up for not only failure, but to set in motion the justification of all manner of things that have absolutely nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with a lie.
Safety can be an intention. It can be honored and it can be protected. It can be respected and agreed upon. And when it comes to re-imagining the long-standing and often outdated beliefs we hold around this, I will leave you with something my husband is talking about at work.
“Safety is a shared responsibility.”
In practice: If you would like to see how this works in your world, do not go to the adult mind that would say, “Of course I know there are no guarantees.” Instead, go below the surface, to the child, to the unconscious, to the place that gets scared. Can you sit with that? Can you feel the need, the vulnerability and the desperation for someone to pledge a certainty for you? Can you open to all of that without trying to have someone take that away for you?
And if you would like to take a deeper look around the maps of safety and danger we create in childhood, the very same ones that continue to inform or drive us as adults, I recommend a book called “Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy Kain.