Safety — the sense of being valued and accepted, of belonging — is a powerful motivator for many individuals.
A lack of safety often seems like a simple switch, instantly shutting down talented and capable people.
(This topic of safety is a minefield right now. The absence of a safe place to stand today seems, paradoxically, to shape all our discourse into a "calm-to-rage in sixty seconds". Please to make allowances, and if you can’t, then at least a ticking noise so we know.)
My first round of gee-kids were teens, and only later did I get the little ones. That first generation came to me because I wanted it: I was paying forward on an enormous debt I had. (At the time, I didn’t realize it was going to be so awesome to give in this way.)
When I was a kid, from 4th grade through high school, there were two places you could reliably find me. I’d be at Tony’s house, or I’d be at Ed’s house. Both of these men created spaces where kids could, a) not be home, b) not follow home rules, c) be welcomed, and d) be safe.
I grew up in a small town in Kansas. Stolen joke, h/t Jai Johnny Johanson, "I left when I turned 18. Up until that time I hadn’t realized we were allowed to leave." I can honestly say that without those two safe places I likely would not have made it out of there alive.
So I got my first generation of gee-kids by way of wanting to do for other people what, first Tony, and then Ed, did for me. I have never regretted this, or anyway, not for any longer than the day after I had to drive out in the middle of the night for crisis rescue. 🙂
Little ones, teenagers, and grown-ups, often need safety. It’s very different in detail for those three cases, but entirely the same in spirit.
It is not possible to parse "safe" in any useful way without coming from a context that is richly human in origin. The notion is deeply embedded in the way our species lives in two worlds at once: the concrete real one and the shared fictional one, and its social-ness in both.
Sentences of people feeling safety:
"I belong here."
"They value my strength & discount my weakness."
"The differences are what makes us so good at this."
"What I think & feel matters with these folks."
"I can just blurt it out."
When people feel unsafe, there are usually only two reactions. One is total silence. The other is defensive anger. I have been in workplaces where 100% of the discourse was either one of these or the other.
Because safety is so often at risk when people are angry about their differences, there’s a kind of knee-jerk thinking that suggests we should never be angry or never display our difference. Both of these approaches are quite common. Both fail routinely, in different ways.
Difference-less and Anger-less
Difference-less culture means that we can’t take advantage of one of the most amazing fountains of creativity: reaching across one person’s experience towards anothers. (It’s also, by definition, exclusionary, and generally unkind.)
Anger-less culture means that everyone involved in it is in a continuous process of suppressing a perfectly normal and perfectly healthy part of their emotional lives. They’ll take themselves elsewhere, or they’ll sit there quietly until the day they explode.
We sometimes teach speaking, and we sometimes teach listening. An awareness of safety, though, requires sensitivity on both sides of that game. Insensitive oral behavior can create unsafe circumstances. Insensitive aural behavior can, too.
I should say, before we close, I’m an unreliable narrator when it comes to safety. It is the weakest of my own motivational bands, primarily because I almost never feel safe when I’m with others. A deep dive on safety is something I can’t really offer you.
In the next couple of days, I’ll follow my usual pattern, of throwing out some ideas about safety that might spark your own better ones. In the meantime, check out a Brene Brown video, or one of Alex Harms’s talks.
Both of them focus heavily on developing empathy and acceptance, key components of any kind of understanding of safety.
Safety — the feeling of being accepted — for some folks this is a huge missing ingredient in motivation.
Once granted it, they are suffused with energy and enthusiasm, and they help their teams soar.
Ed died a few years back, I’m still in touch with Tony. I could never pay it back, but I keep trying to pay it forward. 🙂
Tonight I’ll meditate on it. I hope you’ve had some safety-makers in your life, and I hope you have a few moments to think about what they did.
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