How did safety become our prime directive, the thing we value above all else?
Safety is a primal instinct, centred in the primitive part of our brain where its job is to be alert for danger and trigger fear so we’ll take suitable action. This served a useful purpose for human survival in the days when fight, flight, or freeze were our options.
As humans evolved, so did our brains. We became more conscious, developed a sense of values, and expanded our capacity to view our lives from a larger perspective.
Now, facing the chaos and uncertainty that confronts us every day, we are retreating to our base instincts. And so “stay safe” has become the mantra of the culture.
I say… Enough!
We need to regain our sense of perspective and balance. As is often the case, we can find a new way of looking at things from the children in our lives.
A while back, my eight-year-old granddaughter hurt herself while roughhousing with her dad. As her tears dwindled, I offered a sort-of consolation that I learned from my mother: “Well, at least you’ll know not to do that again.” A thoughtful look crossed her face and she surprised me when she said, “I might… if I was having fun.”
She didn’t know it, but she was making a risk/benefit assessment. Her goal wasn’t to keep safe at the expense of enjoying her life. Notice she said “might” not “would.” This implies she’d assess each situation and decide. She kept herself open to possibilities rather than being closed and fearful.
We adults can do the same.
Instead of saying “stay safe,” our parting words to others could be “take care.” This is an empowering choice because it implies that they are capable of navigateing situations that arise. On the other had, “stay safe” activates their primitive brain by reinforcing the notion that the world is a scary place.
None of this is to suggest that it’s desirable to be reckless, careless, or thoughtless about the effects of our actions on ourselves and others. We are humans in a community and have a responsibility to both ourselves and the larger group.
Use alternative words…
Words carry energy. “Safe” carries a reminder of harm and danger. Uplifting alternatives include mindful, careful, and prudent—they come with the energy of agency, of being able to look after ourselves as we make choices while navigating life.
Make your decisions from a broader perspective…
Think about what’s most important. Usually that’s what enlivens and uplifts us. Think about what will be gained and lost by your decision. Economists call this the opportunity cost: the idea that when you decide to do one thing, you have given up the other possibilities. What are you willing to give up?
This is my mantra for the remaining years I have…
What’s your mantra? Care to share?