SAFE is such a BIG WORD!

One of my favorite movies was Aladdin and in particular, the engaging and energetic Iago* who added so much humor and color and food for thought to the story. His strategy of repeating the sentence: “… _____ is such a big word” was the strongest thread of thought in it all for me! It challenged and informed and raised questions all at the same time.          [*Iago in Alladin is a *Bird (parrot), voice is Gilbert Gottfried]

This thought strategy for Iago is a powerful example of magnifying what we take for granted or consider common to an uncommon meaning we are forced to engage with in our thoughts.

‘SAFE’ for some of us is so common a concept that we hardly ever use the word apart from activities we initiate that would involve potential risk by choice, and then our ‘regards’ are articulated as ‘be safe’ , ‘stay safe’, … and seldom needed.

It is startling when one broadens their world view and realizes that ‘SAFE’ for some becomes the dominant front of the brain thought of every minute of every day. In our own continent of North America in particular, women and children are recognized as the most likely to have to summon thoughts and strategies to stay ‘SAFE’. Let’s consider that thought.

One of the common ways we use the word ‘SAFE’ is to indicate ‘no harm done’.  Synonyms also apply: “ … unharmed, all right, well, … out of danger…”.

These terms for children and youth apply to their experience of where they live, how they are cared for and paid attention to, and the social contexts that are traditionally charged with building their growing participation in society. This includes organized and informal spaces to nurture their interests, capabilities, and learning new options in these areas.

As the incidence and evidence of un‘SAFE’ aspects of the above multiply, the public domain documentation of permission forms signed by responsible adults add another layer of paperwork to activities and learning opportunities not entrenched in curriculum mandates and specific ‘interest generating’ activities offered.

 Despite our best efforts to guard and manage the potential of harm to our young people, ‘SAFE’ in the private domains of life experienced by children and young people offer a far less managed and / or recorded documentation.

The singular dominant concrete formalized ‘harm reduction’ initiatives to protect children and youth are specific to ‘substance abuse’ which is interpreted through a lens that defines ‘the choices of children and youth’ as the essential problem that needs fixing.

We are members of a society very sure that adults will do the best for children. We are in fact assigned that role as the human process of producing and nurturing our babies to successful participation and independence in the world we offer them.

It is astonishing and unimaginable that a significant percentage of harm and danger experienced by our children and youth is directly related to appetites and choices of adults.

Collectively we would not only weep, we would be outraged and confused by the multitude of files and stories social workers and teachers and parole officers read and problem solve and do their best to address concerning how our children and young people are not ‘SAFE’ in their worlds.

Our elevated value of our ‘right to privacy’ and a lack of urgency in systems, policy and adequate staffing capability to pay attention, allows years to go by, while children and young people live their realities every day, 24/7.

Human babies are the most vulnerable of all species. They require intelligent and diligent nurture over years to build a robust capability to assume adult roles in our society… and we are struggling to provide the minimal benchmark of ‘SAFE’ for them?

Their hope continues to rely on the possibility of adults who will really see, step up and pay attention, and in informal support, offer them respect of their value and purpose and the generative invaluable insight of meaning for their personal existence.


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