Safety meter

I suspect that each of us carries in our head, at every moment, a little meter that indicates “how safe am I now”. I’m not talking here about physical safety, such as the danger that we may be run over by a bus or hit by a stray bullet.

No, I’m talking about something both more subtle and more ineffable — our sense of psychological safety. When we are at dinner with good friends, laughing over a meal and perhaps a bottle of wine, our safety meter tends to read very high. But when we are in a strange country, confused and a little lost, or at a party among strangers where we sense that we are missing key social cues, our safety meter might read considerably lower.

I have had the unnerving experience of seeing my own safety meter plunge, at a moment’s notice, from very high to very low. It can happen when an argument erupts seemingly out of nowhere, or upon suddenly learning something unpleasant about a person you’ve long admired. There is a virtiginous sense of the world shifting, almost as though the floor has disappeared from beneath your feet.

There is nothing we can do about such moments. They will continue to happen no matter how carefully we try to guard the gates of our psyches. The only thing we can do is enjoy those lovely moments in between, the mornings at home sipping our coffee, or out to dinner with good friends, or the wonderful feeling of seeing a play with just the right person.

It is so easy to take such things for granted, but they are more important than you may think. When those other moments come, and your entire psychic world finds itself suddenly plunged into unsafe waters, you will need something to hold onto, to pull you back ashore.

2 Responses to “Safety meter”

  1. andras says:

    After reading this post I have a mental image of a rock path across a raging river.

  2. Mari says:

    Having to weather very strong and some quite egoistic characters (violin teachers) who crushed me weekly at very young age, I developed the “gate” pretty early on and my siren goes on when I see “unsafe” coming from miles away :)

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