"Safe" Is Not a Static Character Trait
I’ve heard a lot of conversations lately where someone will reference someone else and classify them as a “safe” person. It intrigues me.
There’s been a whole book written about the qualities/ character traits of safe people, which I investigated when I was thinking about this whole concept.
Maybe because of how many adverse experiences I’ve had wherein people who were supposedly “safe” ended up acting in ways that were very unsafe, or maybe it’s because I’m fatalistic (or possibly because of other reasons), I have come to disagree with the idea that “safe” is a static character trait. Or even a trait at all.
Being “safe” is not like having brown eyes or being 5’6. It’s not a static personal trait.
To clarify, usually when I hear someone talk about another person being “safe” what is generally meant by it is that this “safe” person is unlikely to do something hurtful. That they are a trustworthy, dependable, loving, empathetic, accepting, emotionally healthy individual.
But the damn thing is, people are people. No one is any of those things I just listed all the time.
And no one is “safe” all the time either.
If you break down any one of those characteristics – including the concept of being “safe” as a character trait – they are actually comprised of choices. Choices to keep your confidence rather than gossip or betray your trust (trustworthiness), choices to do what they say they will do (dependability), choices to act with kindness and treat others with honor (loving), choices to try to understand someone else’s feelings and experience (empathetic), etc.
When I read through the list of traits in the book Safe People (Cloud & Townsend), even those so-called “traits” are actually a choice or series of choices that can be changed at any time.
Everyone has a choice in every situation, every relational interaction. They can choose to act in a way that is trustworthy – or not. They can choose to act in a way that is dependable – or not. They can choose to act in a way that is loving – or not. These are not once-for-all choices. They are new choices, new chances to make a choice, every single time, with every new situation. Every interaction is an opportunity to act in a way that is loving, empathetic, accepting, etc. – or not.
The same is true for being a “safe” person. It’s a choice. But it’s not a once-for-all choice. It’s an ongoing choice.
The reason this matters is that categorizing people as “safe” or “unsafe” fails to factor in their humanness and can put them on a pedestal of sorts. People are people. Even the most well-meaning of us still get tired, hungry, sick, hurt, scared, etc.
“Safe” is not a static character trait. It is a continuous choice. It can be changed.
Just as a small example, I myself am generally a “safe” person. I have an overall behavior pattern of making choices to be dependable, trustworthy, accepting, and empathetic. But I, of all people, am also acutely aware that I’m still human, and, if put in the right situation, even I am capable of doing just about anything.
Even the most loving of persons can lash out at others when they are in pain.
Even the most giving of persons can act selfish and self-centered when they are sick.
Even the most dependable of persons can fail to follow through on their word when they’re under stress.
Categorizing people as “safe” can cause you to be blinded to warning signs that a particular person may not be making healthy choices right now. Confirmation bias can cause you to not recognize red flags until the “safe” person hurts you and you have no idea how or why that’s even possible because you never saw it coming even though you could have seen it coming…if you were looking.
At any rate, I have found all of this to be a very interesting idea. I know that I wouldn’t ever want anyone to put me on a pedestal and just blindly put their faith in me forever and ever, amen. I’m a human. I have good intentions but I could (and probably will, at least some of the time) fail. And I have learned – for better or worse – not to put absolute faith or trust in other humans either (hopefully in a healthy way and not just an avoidant, cynical way).
Just some food for thought.