When we think deeply, we all know that safety doesn’t exist. We know that the notion of being safe is a construct of our minds, an illusion. Let’s take a moment and ponder this. We are biological beings. The very act of embryonic development is complex and intricate with millions of cells being born, becoming what they should become in orchestrated perfection. But all it takes is for one incorrect message sent between two cells, a few cells go the wrong way, a failure to divide at just the right time, and that’s it – the end of a potential human. And we haven’t even considered yet the difficulties and dangers of childbirth, childhood illnesses, infections, accidents, poisonings, other people… When you think deeply about the inherent dangers of life, the notion of expecting our culture to keep us safe is laughable.
And yet, we expect this every day. We expect that our police will be superheroes, immune to the same wish for safety as everyone else. We believe that our politicians, no less susceptible to the need for feeling safe, to enact and enforce laws that will protect people they do not know and probably do not care about except possibly as a means to gain their next position of power. Even the act of driving to and from work or school feels competitive – I’m going to get there faster, that spot is mine – than a human endeavor. When we feel separate and “exceptional”, we believe that we are entitled to safety, that it is ours, something that belongs to us. And we believe that our leaders can give us complete safety, that it is their job, and our right.
This is perhaps the ultimate con game that robs us all of the gift of caring for one another, of the responsibility for caring. This pseudo-belief that we can be made safe by someone else instills a narrative of “us” and “them” that makes us feel lonely, paranoid, and afraid. When we respond to the inherent lack of safety of our world by giving up our freedom to leaders who promise the impossible, we give them permission to act in destructive ways on our behalf. We allow our leaders to harm others in the mistaken belief that this will at last provide us freedom. If we just kill all those bad people who threaten us, at last we will be free. But we know this is not so.
Globally and historically, we have seen repeatedly that this response has never worked, and never will. Terrible destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki stopped a war, but did not eliminate destructive beliefs and actions that continue to wipe out communities and sow fear. We ended one Holocaust in Europe, only to be replaced by others in Europe and Africa and elsewhere. As long as we create a world built on fear, we will perpetuate violence and murder.
Does this inherent absence of safety in our lives mean that we can and should act recklessly, without consideration for others? Does this freedom also mean that since anything can happen to me at any time, I should do whatever I want? Of course not. If we are to survive and thrive as a community and a species, this freedom must encourage an even greater response to remember our connection to one another. We have the ability to choose. This isn’t a right or something given to us, it is biological, to some degree. Even if we are physically imprisoned, we have the ability to choose how we respond to the actions of others. We can choose fear, paranoia, and suffering, or we can choose understanding, connection, meaning, and service.
For me, knowing that every moment might truly be my last creates a freedom to be a better person. I don’t expect my leaders to make me safe. No one can do this, not even my own behavior, as evidenced by the 14 people who died in San Bernadino last week. All were described as kind, generous, warm, connected – the very people on whom violence and death would not, should not in our Judeo-Christian minds, be perpetrated. They probably all wore their seat belts to work that morning, as they should have. They didn’t choose the timing and events of their deaths, but they chose how to spend every moment before that, with grace, generosity, and kindness. While this had no bearing on their murderers, it touched others around them who had better lives because of those who died. To respond to these terrible deaths with fear and more death makes no sense and does not honor those who died. We are more likely to reduce violence by responding with grace. We will honor their lives by acting with compassion and humanity.
Let’s think about the murderers for a moment. They appeared to be trying to kill as many people as they could. Therefore, we can only surmise that they wanted to inflict violent death on as many people as possible before their own deaths, and that there was something in it for them for doing so, otherwise why would they do it? Let’s consider all of the recent American mass murders. Most of them were perpetrated by Americans, neighbors, family members, co-workers. They acquired the beliefs that murdering people would be helpful from somewhere. Can we somehow protect ourselves from everyone with such beliefs? Think about that for a moment. How do we know who they are? Can we know who they are? What is the best way to battle this kind of warfare?
One argument is that we should make sure everyone is armed so that when gunfire breaks out, we can kill the perpetrator. How many times has this happened, despite how many guns are available to Americans? Even more important, how easy has it become to solve problems by shooting? And how many problems have been solved in this way? Are more guns likely to help?
The absence of guns forces us to deal with conflict differently. Those who are violent will act violently. We likely know who these people are from previous behavior. Having a handy firearm allows them to murder with ease. Without a gun, we may have time to find them and those around them the help that they need.
I am not averse to guns, hunters, or target practice. I have owned guns and target practice and hunting is fun when done responsibly. I owned a gun when I was threatened by a dangerous person in my life. I sold it when the presence of a gun was more likely to cause harm than to protect me. Again, responsibility comes into play, that for myself and those around me. I care for my patients with evidence, I try to live by evidence. And I can find no evidence that having more guns leads to more safety. Any leader who tells you this is self-serving and looking for an expedient way to obtain votes. Any leader who generates fear to make promises of safety that cannot be kept is not a leader, they are power hungry and destructive. They do not care about your well being, they care about using your fear to obtain power.
Fear is a self-perpetuating emotion. It is easy to arouse in us because our nervous systems are designed to look for imminent danger. When danger is nowhere near, we often create dangers in our mind that don’t exist because that is what our minds do. Power-hungry people prey on this very human response. They have to then create actual danger to prove that they were right. Is this the kind of world we want to build for our families and our children?
Make no mistake, fear is necessary for our survival. It can protect us from harm in appropriate situations. We can evolve from a reactive fear-based thinking to recognize fear for what it is, and to live not from fear, but along side it. When we let fear control our lives, we give our personal fereedom to something outside of ourselves, conditions of our lives we cannot control. We can help each other heal from these tragedies and create the kind of world we can realistically create, one with inherent danger but also with connection, compassion, and care. We have safety when we know we are connected and act from a sense of community.