Do You Feel Emotionally and Physically Safe?

What makes you feel safe?

Posted Mar 24, 2020

For all of my adult life, I have been visiting other cultures, countries, and climes to see how they live and what wisdom they have that I can learn from. One of the things I was always curious about was what made them feel safe and protected.

In some indigenous communities, children are raised with numerous “aunties” and uncles, and have strong bonds with them and consider them almost as second and third parents. The aunties and uncles, on their side, feel great responsibility for their nieces and nephews, and offer financial and emotional support to the children and their parents. It is not uncommon to be raised by grandparents and relatives, because parents are overwhelmed, relatives are alone and need someone to live with them, or the grandparents, uncles, and aunties live closer to a school the child attends or a place where the children can find work.  

I think that the overarching theme is community. I learned that for many groups around the world, it is possible to feel isolated and unsafe if your beliefs, lifestyle, or sexual identity run afoul of group norms, but absent that, or even in spite of that, you have the constant reminder that you are not alone and there are always others who have your back. Especially in times of external stress or pressure for the group, there can be emotional safety in numbers. 

When I visited temples, churches, mosques, synagogues, stupas, monasteries, and religious festivals, I asked many people about why they were religious, when I, myself, am secular. I learned that the top reasons were solace, comfort, and connection. Sometimes it was connection to a saint or a divinity that cared about and protected them. Other times it was having a monk, rabbi, priest, imam, or pastor who offered a safe ear and open heart. They told me they went to community services or prayers because they felt secure in the presence of others. And when they were in need, members of the congregation or group brought food, called to check on them, and offered different kinds of help.

In my own experience, very few friends experienced emotional safety growing up in their nuclear families. Some felt physically safe from violence or abuse although they may have watched violence being carried out at home against others. A number grew up feeling financial insecurity or food insecurity. And I shudder to think what it was like for those who grew up with war, terrorist attacks, horrific accidents, and other tragedies. 

I began to wonder what it’s like to feel really safe. Some of the friends I had when I was growing up later revealed that they were ignored, verbally abused, blamed, demeaned, beaten at home.  I looked in the emotional mirror and admitted that when I was young I had never felt physically or emotionally safe either. I certainly acted as though I was carefree, but as I flipped through the Rolodex of memories when I felt safe and secure, it was devoid of cards.

Fortunately, life has provided me with an excellent marriage and friends to whom I can turn, so the Rolodex now has cards. But I want to share with you an experience I had recently in Mexico where I went from feeling unsafe to feeling secure in less than a minute.

I had gone to a Mexican wrestling match (more about that in another post, and why a pacifist can enjoy crazy, theatrical Mexican wrestling) and was heading to a bus to go back to my airbnb. It was about nine p.m. and I had heard warnings about recent muggings at night on public transportation. Men, women, teenagers, busloads of people had been targeted at gunpoint. I personally met two of them. I started ruminating about what I would do if a ruthless mugger boarded the bus. The bus pulled up, and I got on. I wondered where was the safest place on the bus, and decided I would go to the back and stand there. Two friends, Jose and Juan, followed me. 

The bus took off, and my eyes darted around the bus, wondering if and when a dark-hearted person would jump up and turn on the unsuspecting passengers. Jose and Juan were chatting with a young Mexican man who was standing close by. And then, in an instant, I burst out laughing. Jose, alias Picis, was an ex-wrestler and wrestling teacher. Juan had been a student of Picis. And the third man, who fifteen minutes before was wearing a mask and tights,  had just beaten his masked opponent in the match. 

Three wrestlers surrounding me on a bus. I kept on laughing. I had never felt safer in my life. 

Paul Ross, with permission
Source: Paul Ross, with permission