BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
Joe F. Stierheim
Everybody—everything—in the universe wants to feel safe.
It is a very simple matter, one that should be surprising to no one. Yet it is a concept that is often overlooked, misunderstood or misused. Often we find it amusing to not feel safe. For instance, we spend a great deal of time, effort and money in stories, movies or games that scare us. We call this entertainment. Volcanoes, tidal waves, civil unrest, wars, crime, hurricanes and chainsaws are all part of the scenarios. When the entertainment becomes real, we don’t like it and so we spend a great deal of time, effort and money to see that such things don’t happen or in hopes of escaping them.
It is a fact that in our present society, very few of us feel safe. Endeavors to compensate for that take many forms. One of those is acquiring things, everything under the sun—money, insurance, prestige, houses, clothes, cars, guns—the list is endless and varied, limited only by what any one person thinks could help him or her acquire some sense of security. And for the most part that sense of security is never achieved, thus requiring the individual to continue acquisition of the same or other things in a never ending search.
I would guess that this search for feeling safe is the reason for the structure of society itself. We gathered together for security—first in bands, then in tribes and now in nations and organizations of nations. We attempt to reinforce these units by formalizing them with laws and regulations and providing ourselves with protection in the form of armies and an assortment of weaponry. But those have been inadequate and have never worked for long. We’re still scared. And so we look in other places for security. Some look to religion. Some find it there; others don’t. If a person can’t find it, he or she might try to escape the problem. That is the cause of high rates of suicide in some segments of a population.
Another means of escape is turning to some form of addiction. Overflowing prisons and the high cost of drug programs in this country are evidence that addiction is a real problem. It is odd that in addiction there is a clue to the solution of the entire problem. One of the main tools and the most successful for treating addiction is 12-step programs. There are around 120 such programs and that number alone provides the clue of its success. Each program is for treatment of a different addiction. It could be for alcohol, a particular drug, gambling, shopping, overeating or something else. There are also programs for friends and families of addicts to a particular substance or activity. By having such a narrow focus, it is possible for program members to feel a connection to others in the program. In that way, they can get a feeling of belonging, and a feeling of security. And that is an essential basis for success.
Hence the clue: feeling safe is not a matter of possessions or material means of protection or safeguards of any kind. It is simply a matter of attitude. But such an attitude is not fostered by the society in which we find ourselves. Our society is one of fear, one of competition, pitting individual against individual and group against group and the entire nation against other nations. We do this for the sake of economic growth. It is assumed that this economic growth is necessary in order to make the society function well and by this means providing security. That has not proven to be the case. Instead, we have a society divided against itself and a world in the same condition.
In order to create a society that is truly secure, effort must be put into making everyone in the society feel secure—feeling safe. The only way of achieving that is by building a sense of trust in every individual—trust in the society, which means faith in others, in the society and, more than anything, faith in oneself. We do not do that. In all facets of society—government, business, religion, the military, the justice system—we concentrate on distrust of others. We preach fear, blame and guilt. We feel that by doing so we are sending out warnings and therefore are protecting ourselves and building a strong society. We are doing just the opposite. We are, instead, establishing in each member of the society distrust of other members and, in the final essence, distrust of the society itself. And those who have no trust in anything are afraid. They do not feel safe and sooner or later they will try to create safety for themselves. In all probability, the way they choose to do that will only cause more disruption to the society. And so the cycle continues.
We must, as a society, break this cycle. That will be difficult because part of that entails changing a mindset that has been carefully and purposely built up over centuries, if not millennia. Competition must be given up for cooperation, suspicion for trust, fear for love. And the changing of the mindset of the society begins with the changing of the mindset of the individuals of the society.
Until each of us feels confident enough within himself—or herself—to make that change, the condition of feeling safe will not happen.