As is often the case, those who have a leftist political worldview and label themselves progressives generally get almost everything wrong. Be that as it may, they often present at least interesting problems to solve that demonstrate the basic symmetry of certain problems if they are viewed from a fair and just perspective. For example, many who fancy themselves activists of one kind or another find themselves deeply triggered by microaggressions, subtle and nonverbal actions that make them feel uncomfortable and subject them, in their own mind, to violence. On the other hand, though, such people are quick to defend women and minorities and other subaltern groups from the behavior of authorities who might similarly find themselves triggered by microaggressions that demonstrate a certain lack of respect for authorities, especially if those authorities are conservative white males. The contempt such groups feel towards the other can be manifested in the same sort of behaviors that induce an unfriendly response towards them that is as justified as the hostility they show towards microaggressions from others. In short, whether we deal with the supposed violence that women and minorities of one kind or another suffer and the lack of safety and comfort on the part of police or other authorities from those same groups that often leads to unfriendly results, we are dealing with the same precise problem, and that is, how do we prove ourselves safe?
It is easy to prove ourselves to be unsafe, a trivially easy task. If I point a gun at someone or brandish a machete menacingly, then I will have proven myself unsafe. If I yell at someone or attack someone, if I commit some sort of violence against them, I have proven myself to be unsafe. I once had a laptop computer that twice spurt flames out of the place where the power cord went. That laptop demonstrated itself to be unsafe. Abusive and violent people, by virtue of their abuse and violence, demonstrate themselves to be unsafe. Something that is unsafe may not be dangerous at all times, but it is like living in the valley below a volcano. Most of the time the soil may be rich and the area may be quite charming, but all it takes is for one eruption to destroy one’s life and happiness and sense of safety completely. Some people are like those volcanoes, and if they do not often go off, one knows that they can go off, and one only needs to see one eruption to know that someone is unsafe.
It is a vastly harder thing to prove oneself safe. We, knowing our intentions, may know that we do not mean to do harm to others. To be sure, we may not always go out of our way to do well to others, but we know that inside of us there is a strong sense of justice, a kind and tolerant benevolence towards others, and every other sort of virtue that makes us precisely the good sort of people that everyone should want to be around. We have excuses for all of those moments when we are at less than our best. Perhaps we were tired or hungry, perhaps we had a bad day at work or didn’t get enough sleep last night or had just been through an hour or two of horrific traffic. Maybe we will blame someone for catching us off guard if we do not like surprises, or we will blame our childhood and the violence we suffered at the hands of others for the reason we are a bit more sensitive than most people are. Some of these excuses or reasons may even be true, but if all we do is look to ourselves to judge whether or not we are safe, most of us will consider ourselves to be perfectly safe, assuming some basic precautions are taken by those dealing with us.
But let us look from the point of view of the other, be it a somewhat easily triggered social justice warrior or a police officer dealing with a situation that may turn violent. How do we make the trigger-happy progressive or the trigger happy cop feel safe? That is the question. Our intrinsic safety is irrelevant in this situation. It is how that safety is successfully communicated, or not, that is relevant. If we desire to make others feel safe, that is a start, but the desire to please does not always indicate or lead to a successful realization of that desire. Indeed, some people may view the desire to make others feel safe as evidence that someone is not safe, precisely because they are trying. Someone trying hard to make us feel safe must be hiding something, or else they would not have to try at all, we may say to ourselves. Likewise, the anxiety that is associated with recognizing that someone may feel unsafe may itself trigger anxiety in a person who is easily made anxious or uncomfortable themselves. There is nothing easier to do than for anxious people to make other people feel anxious in turn and for everyone to feel unsafe and awkward and uncomfortable and unsure of how to progress from that situation to something that everyone else would desire more. To prove a negative is far more difficult than to prove a positive. To know that a volcano is dangerous only requires one eruption. To know that a volcano is extinct is something we must take on faith, provisionally, with the knowledge that we may be wrong. So it is with people.
Viewed in that light, it is very easy to have compassion on those who have a hard time feeling safe. Not everyone cares that others feel safe, but enough people do that it is a great tragedy when we are unable to make others feel safe. All too often in the world we encounter people who are like terrified small children who have suffered horrific abuse and who find the strength and exuberance of others to be terrifying. It takes a great deal of time to build trust with others. And yet in order to feel safe, there must be some sense of trust. Ultimately, we may not be able to prove ourselves trustworthy because others will never let us in. Because of the horror of our experiences or the strength of our prejudices, we may never be able to see others as anything more than a potential threat that can be but must be managed. And that is a great shame, but we can try to see whether others can be made safe through time and kindness, and whether the patient effect of gentle water and smooth off at least some of the rough edges that exist with those around us.