Everyone wants to feel safe. No one wants to contemplate terrible things happening to themselves or their loved ones. But sometimes terrible things happen, and this isn’t something that anyone can control.
The truth is that safety is a comforting idea, but it is not real. No one is ever completely safe. Bad things can happen without warning. You or a loved one may lose a job, be diagnosed with a debilitating or fatal illness, lose life or possessions in a natural disaster, be harmed in an accident, or get shot and killed—just to name a few possibilities. Depressing thoughts, so naturally we prefer to avoid thinking about it. After all, if you always dwell on the possibility of horrible (a process you can call awfulizing), then you’re not going to live a happy and joyful life. Instead, you will live a fearful, unhappy one.
In general, I think most people prefer not to dwell on horrible what-ifs, but in a world where the folks with the majority of the wealth want to distract us from that fact, there is no better way to do that than by making us afraid—of each other. And it’s remarkably easy to do because fear appeals to our lizard brain, our most basic instinct. It can overwhelm logic and reason, and it pushes out love and compassion entirely.
The latest manufactured fear in the U.S. is that somehow “allowing” transgender women to use the ladies’ restrooms is going to unleash a rush of male pedophiles to peek under the stalls at your daughter.
Never mind that transgender women have been using the ladies’ room for as long as transgender people have existed (forever, in other words). Never mind that most girls are molested by someone they know rather than a complete stranger. Never mind that boys in the men’s room have always been at risk (from other men). Never mind that smart parents accompany young children to the restroom. No, you should BE AFRAID. And suddenly, many people now are.
In our pursuit of “safety,” we are quick to throw others under the bus. Many of the folks who are in favor of bans on transgender people in their restroom claim to have “no problem” with the transgender people themselves. (“Some of my best friends are black,” no doubt. The same North Carolina legislation that bans transgender people from the restroom they identify with also strips them of their basic civil rights, like the right not to be fired for being transgender. I don’t hear anyone in the pro-restroom bill camp decrying that.) But let’s assume some of these folks really don’t have a “problem” with transgender people, per se. The problem is they also don’t have a problem with revoking transgender rights so that they can “feel safe.” They won’t be safe. But they’ll feel safe. We’ve been here before…
“Gosh, it’s a shame that the Adachi family lost their house and business and got sent to that camp, but it’s war, after all. Gotta be safe. They could be traitors.”
“The Goldsteins always seemed so nice, but I’m sure it’s better to have them moved to a new home somewhere else. Can’t be too careful. Maybe what they’re saying is right?”
“Oh, we can’t let in any Syrians. They could be terrorists.”
Yes, sadly, there are terrorists in the world. And they’re everywhere. This policy or that policy is not going to change that fact. Policies, laws, and wars all give us the illusion of safety and security, but that doesn’t mean that a bomb won’t go off tomorrow in your town. It doesn’t mean that another mentally ill person won’t take a gun and do something horrible with it. And sexual assault is a terrible, terrible thing. That’s why we have laws against it, so that we can punish those who do it. But the laws themselves do not prevent sexual assault. And the ridiculous bathroom laws are not going to make a predator draw up short and say, “Curses! Foiled again by an invisible legal shield around every women’s restroom! Now I’ll have to find a different way to prey on little girls!” But such laws will further stigmatize and isolate a vulnerable population: you have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered if you are transgender; you have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered if you are also a person of color.
So, yes, safety is a highly desirable if unrealistic state, but it is also clear that fear kills. When your sense of safety begins to outweigh the needs or rights of others, we all have a big problem. There will be bad apples in any given barrel, but there is no sense in throwing out the whole thing. We live in a world with no guarantees. All we can do is take each moment as it comes. We can be empowered by listening to our own intuition; if something doesn’t feel right, then by all means, leave! Take reasonable risks. Be aware. But even so, Superman ended up in a wheelchair. Lightning strikes. But it’s equally terrible when we allow fear to take away our humanity and compassion for others, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.