The word “safe” in English etymology has its most recent (13th century) historical ties to the Latin “salvus” which means “unharmed.” This, in turn, traces quite naturally to the prevalent notion that “to be safe” means we must be protected from harm. This, unavoidably, invites consideration of what constitutes harm.
Often, what is deemed “harmful” is positional, situational. It is seen to depend on value-systems and perspective; on partialities, loyalties, definitions, and semantics. For one community it may be considered harmful to consume any animal proteins, for another the sacrifice of animals may be tied to the honouring of deep, religious tradition. The whole idea of what constitutes “harm” is argued in courts. It is argued in streets, in homes, and is often saturated with different kinds of fear because the very idea of being “unsafe” almost necessitates a constant dance with fear. Those arguments, themselves, become their own form of fragmentation and harm (within and between communities, within and between families etc.), their own calls for protection from harm and it seems to get harder and harder – beyond perhaps the avoidance of clear-cut experiences of physical damage (i.e. being hit by a car and breaking a leg) – to know what being “unharmed” even means.
Beneath its 13th century Latin foundation, the word “safe” also has an older root that ties it to the prehistoric Indo-European word “solwos” which means “whole.” I learned this as I worked around the edges of an assignment in the first course of my Masters of Education back in 2010 and have not been able to let it go.
Think about it.
Safety, not grounded in the complicated, often fearful and divisive mess that is protection from harm but fecund and bound through its own linguistic soil to entirety, to fullness; safety as wholeness.
And, what if wholeness is something intrinsic and ever-present and our current definition of “safety” – fundamentally insecure in its nature due to its unavoidable ties to fear and the complicated, situational and positional semantics of harm – is actually part of our deepest problems?
What if we re-story safety away from protection from harm toward a nurturance of wholeness?
From this perspective, would we of Western heritage still break all things apart – compartmentalize – to make them manageable? Would we still see math as distinct from literature, literature as distinct from geography, geography as distinct from physics? Would we still need concepts/words like “inter-disciplinary” and “cross-curricular” in order to imagine how to put the pieces back together? Would we be better able to see – culturally – that the inter-connectivity and interbeing of our world is literally never changed or altered by any version of our ever-shifting perceptions? By our fear of difference, of “otherness?” By our compartmentalization, labels, or apparent need for simplicity?
If the root of real safety is wholeness then aren’t fragmentation and compartmentalization – used as anything other than occasional tools of understanding and living – an undeniable form of harm?
In this vein, another form of Western culture’s tendency toward fragmentation is shown in vivid relief through the ways in which we are forced to market ourselves for “work.” Even how we are taught to define what constitutes work has been compartmentalized and bound up with bizarre – if unavoidably important – abstractions such as money. It’s as though the only things of value we ever accomplish are things for which we are paid. We position being paid as though it has the same inherent, intrinsic value as being fed, or sheltered, or clothed, or loved.
Sites like LinkedIn, and every HR department in pretty much every company with more than a handful of employees, force us to take the whole picture of who we are and carve it apart into tiny, anaemic, Pablum-like pieces. Long hierarchical and historically constructed chains of accepted valuations then decide which pieces of us have merit to what businesses. These valuations are also now further codified by actual code on computers, computers which often sort through the resumés before a human even glances at them. This has meant that people have inserted, in pseudo-invisible white “ink” on the white background of each page, “keywords” that will trigger these algorithms to allow their resumé through this first un-human “reading.”
It’s hard, even for those who accept and play this game far better than I ever will, to nurture wholeness when the world literally demands that we break ourselves down into invisible computer-oriented keywords just so a flesh and blood human will then maybe skim a few carefully crafted “action and accomplishment laden” sentence fragments. That many of these sentence fragments may or may not even be true is another thing altogether, because trying to fit into predefined categories and spaces just to get a job to support ourselves (so that we can have food, shelter, clothes etc.) typically leads to lies.
Lies to ourselves.
Lies to others.
We are given so many reasons to forget that under all and everything we’ve built on top of it, we are connected, interdependent, and whole; we are not born with the divisions we later create and “protect.” We are surrounded by and made of meeting places. Ocean meets sand, sand segues to forest, forest meets air meets bones and joints and cartilage. Cartilage works with muscle, muscle with fascia, fascia with neurons and blood made of cells fed by nourishment meeting stomachs meeting bacteria. Molecules move from one place to another spanning the globe and back again. Atoms weave through all of it, all of us, through time and back to the origins of the universe itself.
To fit into corporate and other business structures and systems, we forget all the connections that create us and keep us alive. Instead, we break ourselves apart just to be seen in our tiniest, most simplified (and often reductive) parts and pieces.
In this way, I moved from thinking about safety as a nurturance of wholeness to safety as a remembrance of wholeness.
We must remember that we are whole, that the planet is whole, that this wholeness – itself built on endless webs of interconnection and interdependence – is safety and that the worst harm that often comes to us is the direct result of forgetting this wholeness.
And so this website.
All of me in one place.
On my own terms.
Childishly defiant? Perhaps.
Defensively pathetic? Maybe.
After-all, I’ve not been one of those who have had much in the way of conventional successes so all of this might just be the laundering of my malcontent disenfranchisement and bitterness in some public and attention-seeking way.
That’s not how it feels, though.
How it feels is that filling in LinkedIn boxes that do not fit the life I’ve actually lived makes me irritable at best, nauseated and weepy at worst.
How it feels is that I may finally know what some of my gifts are and wish desperately to offer them to my communities and place in sustaining and good ways. I have found over and over again that who I am does not fit well into the categories and compartments my Western culture first defines and then protects.
With algorithms. With hierarchy.
Except by the extreme fortune of my middle class lifestyle, I have never felt “safe” in my own culture that has constantly, encouragingly – even lovingly – tried to take me apart and fit me into places and spaces that hurt and crush me.
I have never felt whole.
Even though I am, and have always been.
Just like the world.
Just like you as you read this.
This site is therefore my safe place.
This site is my wholeness.
My wholeness nurtured.
My wholeness protected and shared.
My wholeness remembered.