Is Safetyism Dangerous?
How safe is a world where everything gets locked down?
Years ago, a German American professor by the name of
Wolf Peregrin Joachim Wolfensberger (lets call him ‘Wolfie’ for short) had an idea. And it was a doozy.
Get this. Wolfie reckoned that people with a disability should be treated just like… any other regular person.
How radical! Not now. But back in the day you’re talking crazy!
Amongst other things, Wolfie called this fresh approach ‘Normalization.’ The idea was if you treated people normally, they’d learn to behave normally.
Apart from a whole lot of people getting their knickers in a twist about what on earth ‘normal’ was, the concept worked. Brilliantly.
Suddenly, people in their 50’s who were made to wear oversized toddler gear and bibs, finally got to wear age appropriate clothes. And, little by little, others began treating them more like adults too.
Which is just as well. Because it’s damn hard to act like a convincing infant when you’re waving at retirement age.
Hard to believe I know. But, back then, Wolfie’s brainwave really was a radical mind-exploding idea.
Now, cock your slingshot and fast-forward back here in 2019. Welcome to today!
Wolfie’s ideas are a given. The flux capacitor was just a dream after all. And, somehow, we have a new wave of babying that has sneakily slipped into place. Though it’s all for a good cause.
That’s safety. But not like safety used to be known. Today’s version, having gone rogue, has sprouted hair on its chest and roars at people through memos.
So, to avoid confusion, let’s call this new variety ‘safetyism.’
“And what the blinkin’ blonkin’ is that?” you ask.
Well, you can see it when helicopter parents ban their kids from walking down a typical street to school. Or stopping kids going on a hike, or riding a bike. Or, just doing what they like.
Can’t possibly do anything like that. That’s dangerous!
Which is true.
Everything is dangerous after all. And, you can’t be too careful. Only… you can.
Like Wolfie said, we humans need risk to thrive. He called it “The Dignity of Risk”, arguing (well, arguing in a nice voice) that we stifle people’s self-development if we put them in enough cotton wool to make breathing difficult.
So how come we’re suffocating the young and weakening our abilities in the name of safety? How did that become a thing?
Maybe it was set in motion by people desperate to do things ‘right’. While lawyers and insurance companies keep ramping up responsibilities by demanding employers cover all possible (and a few impossible) hazards. Just to reduce risk.
That makes sense. Kind of.
Only, where does it end? Lacking an answer, we’re babying ourselves to death. Insisting that everything be looked at through safety restrictions has created a soft and squishy mindset.
Don’t climb mountains! People can fall.
Give up adventures. They’re dangerous!
And, forget about challenges that include too much risk.
Safetyism says, “Sit down.” Safetyism says, “Put your hands over your eyes.” Safetyism says, “Don’t do anything unless there’s a risk assessment report completed.”
Now jump up! Aha!!! Got you! Safetyism didn’t say “jump up.”
We’ve gone over the top. Paranoid that a loose cord could kill us at any moment. Fearful we might slip. Anxious that we haven’t covered every contingency.
And now some people have found new things to add to the hazard box.
Danger used to mean something could rip your leg off. Or kill you.
But now, ‘danger’ can mean hearing someone say things we vehemently disagree with. Safetyism now includes inappropriate comments too. Because they’re dangerous.
Having become so risk averse that it’s technically tricky to tackle anything spontaneous and unpredictable, we’ve dawdled towards trying to block out anything that might hurt us. Or, generally cause us to feel bad.
Our focus is not on the opportunities, but the risks.
Now before someone flies into an impassioned rage and starts brandishing a slightly sharp set of Splayds, I have a caveat. Safetyism creates more problems for some than others.
Some folk will grow up fine regardless. More than that, they’ll even benefit greatly from sensible attention to safety. While the expectation that safety is a must will force dodgy bosses to comply. Even whilst gritting their ciggy-stained teeth and releasing jets of steam from their ears.
But I suspect many (i.e. that’s more than three people clutching three nervous puppies) will have their confidence crippled by this. Rather than accept risk as a healthy part of life, they’re trapped by it.
While I have no idea what the potential is for an anvil to fall down on our foot whilst walking down the street (very high is your name is Wylie Coyote). I suppose there’s a safety audit out there somewhere to prevent the infinitesimal threat.
And, of course, asteroids do happen. Micrometeorites are out there, waiting to spoil your day. Just as there are people not far away who have pretty confronting ways of saying stuff that would get us very upset.
Safetyism aside, life is dangerous. And yet, we weren’t born to perform safety audits. Reasonable care is of course a no-brainer. But mollycoddling, pandering, cossetting, and overprotecting aren’t good for us either.
You don’t need to juggle knives, play hopscotch on cliff tops. Or, play chicken on highways with your eyes closed to live life to the max.
But we do need to accept challenges with more confidence. Like Wolfie said, a good life means enjoying the dignity of risk.