A Symbol of Safety

by Paul Sherman

I've never been one to wear a ribbon to highlight a cause. Not that I think there is anything the matter with it, just has never been my thing. This week I found myself called to attach a safety pin to my jersey. For those who don't know, a safety pin has become a symbol of letting those around you know that you are there to support them, that they are literally "safe." Some Americans have recently borrowed this tradition from the UK, who, after Brexit, adopted it as a way to reduce fear among foreigners and reassure them that they had allies.

I chose to wear the pin not because I felt personally unsafe (lucky me, white middle-aged guy), but because so many around me were feeling that way. Were these "rational fears?" That's not the point. The fears are real to them. So, rather than telling them to "just get over it," (try telling someone who is claustrophobic to go sit in a dark closet, try telling someone who is afraid of flying to "just get on the plane"), I did what I thought would be helpful for my fellow human beings. I wore a pin. Not only would it be good for them, but it would be good for me. Why good for me? Because I'd rather live in a world where people are at their best and unafraid. That leaves them free to positively contribute to my society rather than fear it.

Without getting into a whole lot of drama (not my thing), let's just say that the reception that I received from my little safety pin was not what I expected. After all, who could argue with a universal message of safety? Isn't it the very first thing on Maslow's hierarchy---a common need of all human beings (animals, too, for that matter).

The tamest and most innocent reactions were, "I just don't get it." Though I didn't understand how people couldn't "get it" (don't we all want to feel safe?) , I certainly couldn't condemn or feel threatened by that opinion. And, if this was the only reaction I got, I wouldn't be writing this post.

Yet, in some circles, I was openly criticized (some may have even called it "attacked") for the silver accessory that adorned my jersey. (And no, those criticizing me were not my fellow gay men appalled by my choice of pin :-)). The gist of their criticism: "You are enabling and coddling people by wearing that pin. The act of wearing a pin is manufacturing fear where there is no need for any. People just need to move on." One person even told me that I should be ashamed of myself.

How ironic! As my week progressed and the criticisms mounted , the very act of wearing a pin to symbolize safety was actually causing me to feel unsafe. WTF! (And, walking my own talk, I need to work through that. Time to re-read Chapters 4-7 of Ask What Matters?!)

So I write this post for three reasons. First, it's really cathartic to get this out of my brain and on paper---a great "Reach In" tool for decreasing stress and increasing well-being tool.

Second for those of you who aren't critical of the safety pin movement but simply just don't "get it" I request that you really take a moment and think about the purpose behind the symbol. What are the things that make you feel unsafe and afraid in your world? Fear of financial ruin? Fear of homelessness? Fear of being fired from your job? Fear of others wearing safety pins (or not)? Whatever they may be, how "real" are these fears? Well, they are real to you. The same way that for those whom the safety pins are intended are afraid of what they are afraid of. And, whatever your fears, wouldn't you rather have your community reassure you that you are going to be okay, rather than have people simply stand by and watch? Some may call that coddling. I call it kindness.

And third, for those who would openly criticize others for wearing safety pins, I request that you take a moment and think about the impact on others of what you are saying before you say it. What's your motive? Are you saying it to be helpful, with love in your heart and with positive intentions? Or are you saying it out of anger and frustration? If the former, have at it, paying careful attention to your delivery. If the latter, DON'T! While you certainly have a right to say anything you want to say, you will likely be causing pain for the recipient of your words.

Some may criticize me for being "politically correct" or somehow fake or inauthentic. However, growing up, my mother, Norma, instilled in us that common adage, "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it." Saying unkind things spews venom into the world. Better off for everyone keeping that venom inside of you. Let that cancer eat away at you rather than sharing it with the rest of the world.

I'm going to continue wearing my safety pin.

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