A great deal of human activity is, and has been, devoted to making the world a safer, more predictable place. These days we use science and technology, before that, our ancestors prayed and made stories that explain things. Insulated by central heating, cars, double glazing and all the other mod cons, we can convince ourselves that we have security. Our jobs are safe, the money from them will enable us to keep everything else under control. We can buy our way out of problems. Of course, for a lot of people in the world, this illusion of security does not exist, they live too close to the edges.
The better a job we do of building the illusion of safety, the more traumatic it is to have that torn down. How many of the things we take for granted are actually safe and certain? Here in the UK we’re watching the government launch a massive attack on many institutions and systems a lot of us had taken for granted. No security there then. Where a feeling of safety is derived from buying power, that depends a lot on earning power. As unemployment rises, increasing numbers of people are having that source of safety stripped from them. We saw with the banking crisis that having savings stashed is not necessarily going to work either – if the banks fail, they can take your security with them. And if you’ve inherited enormous wealth, there’s always the fear that some seriously socialist government will come in and take that from you.
We don’t, as individuals, have all that much say over a lot of things that influence our lives. No matter how hard we work, how good or clever we are, a change of government policy can throw us into poverty and disaster, a natural event can kill us or make us homeless. Illness can strip everything from us. Crime, abuse, deliberate attack and tragic misfortune are all things that can destroy us, with no warning.
Security is an illusion.
Does that mean plunging into gloom and hopelessness? Is apathetic despair the only reasonable response? I’ll admit I have days when it feels that way, but it doesn’t help, or improve things so it’s not a pragmatic answer.
The only security we can trust, is not to be found in money or material things. Anything external to us is, by its very nature, beyond our full control. But anything within us, we have far more reason to depend on. The odds are, if we can’t find it within ourselves, we won’t find it anywhere else either.
We can trust to our wits, if we know we have them. Imagination and creativity will help us find solutions to problems, or ways round them, or better yet, the means to turn setbacks into advantages and possibilities. We can trust our own courage, that whatever the challenge, we have it within us to step up to it. We might equally find a sense of security in knowing that we can endure. Once we’ve been tested a few times by life, we start to get a sense of how tough we are, and what we can weather. So even if things are hard now, by bearing them, we can get through to a time when all will be better, perhaps. When there is no ‘win’ in a situation, we can take comfort from doing the best we can and acting with honour. If there is nothing else, then honour and dignity are still things to hold to, and for longer term survival can prove a lot less damaging than ‘doing whatever it takes’ and having to live with the consequences of that. It’s easy in crisis to feel that dishonourable action is justified, by need, desperation, extremity, but there usually are options. Rare is the situation you can’t tackle with honour, and maintaining that sense of self is something to hang onto when all else is chaos.
Systems might fall, disasters may beset us, but true friendship endures and may grow stronger. There are people who will disappear out of your life at the first signs of struggle, but they were clearly not worth having as friends. True friends stay. The deep friendships we invest heart and soul in, are one of the best kinds of security we can look for. They won’t necessarily give us physical certainty, but they provide an emotional centre and continuity.
Anything that can be stripped from us, is not, and was not part of ourselves. We might have valued it, needed it, life without it may be hellish. If we aren’t dead, then life without the lost thing is clearly possible. Somehow.