What Does it Mean to be Safe?

For a long time, I considered myself safe only if there was no presence of danger. That makes sense if you look up the word “safe” and “safety” in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines safe as “secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss.” That’s how I’ve tried to live my life: not running with scissors, wearing my seatbelt, looking both ways when I cross the street, etc. It’s been my prime objective to avoid danger. However, if you live long enough, you soon realize you can’t avoid danger.

To be alive means to encounter threats. They could be in the form of other people, like a mugger or a drunk driver; a wilderness threat like a snake or a wasp; or a natural disaster like a flash flood, fire, or earthquake. There are more threats, of course, I’ve just named a few, but the point is, no one can live in a safety bubble. It’s not possible. How then do we keep ourselves safe? What does safety even mean in that context?

To go back to etymology, the word “safe” was derived from the Old French word sauf, which means protected and watched over. I like that definition because it means even in dangerous situations, I can be safe because I’m protecting myself, I’m watching over myself. In other words, I’m making good choices to ensure my eventual safety. That could be slowly backing away from a mountain lion, carrying pepper spray to ward off an attack by a person, or evacuating my home in the case of a fire. Just because there’s risk of harm doesn’t mean harm is inevitable.

Mountain lion

Do you know what to do when confronted with a mountain lion? Photo by Zach Key on Unsplash

When it comes to safety, that’s the piece that’s been missing for me. I discount my ability to take care of myself, to show up for myself in dangerous situations. Instead, I’ve believed the worst possible thing will happen and I’m helpless to prevent it. Um, not true. I keep a cool head in stressful situations, choose wisely, and prepare as much as I can in advance, like looking up what to do if encountering a mountain lion. That’s called keeping myself safe.

For someone like me who is perpetually worried about safety, who’s scared of danger, and tries to outsource my safety to someone else sometimes, recognizing the power and ability I have within me is huge. That may not be you. You might be a person who already feels confident in yourself and your abilities, but for the person who identifies with me, the anxious scaredy-cat, I hope you hear me when I tell you: You can do this.

I’m reminded of the quote by A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh who said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.” Yes. We are. I don’t know about you, but I often sell myself short. I don’t want to do that anymore. Having an inferiority complex is not accurate because as my spiritual teacher says, “A person must not suffer from an inferiority complex, because that person and his or her friends and siblings are all the progeny of the same Progenitor. They come from the same origin.”

That means I’m just as capable as anyone else. That means I absolutely have the power within me to protect myself, to keep myself safe. Not because I’m avoiding danger at all costs, but because I’m making choices in the moment to minimize risk. That matters. A lot.

I dream of a world where we recognize we are safe not when we avoid danger, although that may be a part of it, but rather due to what happens after the threat arises. A world where we remember we have a force within us, an instinct to keep us alive. A world where we understand we are capable people and we create safety for ourselves.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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