Safety vs making people feel safe

There are all kinds of affective things and cognitive tricks you can learn that make it more likely that people will trust you and feel safe.

It is possible to get really, really good at that without actually learning how to be trustworthy. You can be really, really good at making people feel safe, and still be a danger to people who trust you.

Sometimes it’s not a good idea to focusing on trying to make people feel safe.

Often, it’s much better to focus on learning how to be trustworthy. Two major components of being trustworthy are paying close attention to practical safety; and listening to the people whose safety might be impacted.

For example:

If you want to know what’s dangerous, it’s important to seek out the perspectives of people you’re trying to create safety for. This isn’t something you can do completely on your own.

Part of this is seeking out writing about danger and safety by members of the affected group, or advocacy organizations run by members of the affected group. Another part of this is listening to the individual people who you are actually interacting with about their needs.

It’s important to communicate effectively about the things you are doing that might make trusting you a good idea.

It’s important to talk about safety improvements to make sure people know about them. (Eg: if you fixed a dangerous ramp, people need to know that it has been fixed). It’s also important to communicate your willingness to listen to people about their needs and fix things that are endangering them. It has to be true, and you have to do things to communicate that it’s true. It does not go without saying; willingness to listen and address safety issues in practical terms is actually fairly uncommon.

If you focus on practical safety through proactive research and listening to affected members of your community, you can get very far in building safe and welcoming community even if people do not feel safe.

Some people who do not feel safe still care very much about being there, and are willing to take risks in order to participate. It’s important to honor and accept that.

Some people aren’t ever going to feel safe. (And some of them will be right.) It’s important to accept them as they are, and not make feeling safe a prerequisite for participating.

tl;dr “Making people feel safe” is often the wrong approach. Focusing on being safe often matters a lot more. Some people don’t believe that they are safe, and are willing to take risks in order to participate. They should be allowed to have that perception. They should not be pressured into feeling safe as a prerequisite for participation.