One of the best gifts I received this last Christmas was a poster entitled “How to Build Global Community.” My wonderful friends Dave, Janie, and their then-unborn superchild Corrina gave it to me. They got it from Ten Thousand Villages (yay!)
It has been a great thing to hang on my wall in my office and ponder over. Ponder ponder ponder. Lately I have been pondering over the second point on this how-to list, which says “Don’t confuse your comfort with your safety.”
At first I really didn’t get this, although it sure sounded good and poetic and powerful and I felt freaking smart and activist-like having it hang on my wall. But over time I have begun to understand what is going on in this little line and it is outstanding. So much so that I have tried to intentionally make this statement impact my life and influence the way that I live.
Don’t confuse your comfort with your safety. How many times have I used that excuse – I don’t feel safe – to cross the street from a particularly offensive looking panhandler? From somebody rifling through a trash bin? How often have I walked the long way around downtown just so that I don’t have to walk down Spence or Balmoral? Or stood at certain bus shelters instead of others? I think that I have very often confused my comfort with my safety, and have used the “I don’t feel safe here” excuse in order to cover up my simple discomfort with a certain situation or certain people.
So why do I feel unsafe? Is it because the environment is unsafe and that person on the corner is going to hassle me? Or is it simply because I am uncomfortable? Is it because I do not have control – that I did not choose this person to be there asking me for money. That I did not choose to consort with these people who obviously had too much alcohol. It is more likely that I am merely uncomfortable. When I think back to all of the situations where I felt unsafe there is only a slight few which any real action was taken against my safety, and these actions have always been relatively minor. My feelings stemmed only from the presence of another who seemed different than those whom I normally choose to consort with. And that is my problem, I believe.
Being a woman, I have been taught to always be careful around strange men who are “different” in any way – in dress, smell, ethnicity. I do not believe that this has been taught as an intentially racist statement, but it does reflect general Winnipeg values of who the “good” and who the “dangerous” people are on the street. A drunk white woman is far less dangerous than the same-sized drunk woman of another ethnicity. No matter how much I am convinced I am not a racist, these truths of my beliefs come into play when walking around downtown. And I am ashamed of them.
But this is a slippery slope. At what point should I respond to a feeling of un-safety? Certainly some situations are dangerous. And not listening to my inner voice of caution could be quite dangerous and have severe consequences. I think I just need to practice a bit more on telling the difference between a truly dangerous situation and a merely uncomfortable one.
Just some random thoughts.