Safety Not Guaranteed

A couple days ago my son asked me to make him a rubber-band-gun. I don't know where he got the idea, but since I know a little something about rubber-band-gun-making, I agreed.

An hour and a half later, I had learned two things. First, that I'm an awesome, dedicated father -- willing to ignore his son for long stretches in order to get him what he wants. And second, I learned that I was a better carpenter at the age of eight.

Of course, back then I had access to better power tools, including a band saw and a belt sander.

Remembering this got me to thinking about our Culture of Safety.

When I was five, I got my first machete. I found it in the mud by the lake, and my parents let me keep it. My dad helped me sharpen it up to a razor's edge, reminding me that a dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp one. A year later, I sliced into my toe with it while hacking down a sapling, and had to scream bloody murder to get them to agree to butterfly strips, instead of stitches.

Man, that machete was awesome

Growing up in the Amazon was inherently dangerous. There were stingrays and piranhas and dysentery in the lake, poisonous snakes and insects in the jungle, and all the general hazards of a world where nobody thought anything of riding at break-neck speeds in truck-beds, and hauling around on roller-blades behind taxis on the pavement in town.

Still, I don't think that's the only thing that made my younger life a lot more exciting than what kids experience today. I think the whole world has changed, as safety's been moved front-and-center on the List of Rules for Good Parenting.

Not only has playground equipment become rounded and plasticized, but parents often don't let their children outside at all, preferring the better-known hazards of video-game addiction and the adverse health effects of a sedentary lifestyle to the unknown threats lurking in every forest and on every city street.

Corporations have stoked the fires of this culture of fear, and have gotten rich doing it, because the only thing that sells better than sex is fear.

When I was a kid, I spent hours making beautiful, multi-shot repeating rubber-band guns, engineered in the fertile soil of my childish creativity. This I followed up with endless hours of rubber-band-gun war -- a thing my quasi-Pacifist Self now shudders at, but that at the time was exhilarating. And all it cost was a little scrap wood and a packet of rubber bands.

Nowadays, the Fascist Corporational-Dictators of our Shiny New Lives make bajillions informing us that a three-year-old car seat is no longer sufficient because somehow the plastic has degraded and has no more tensile strength. And we -- believing their carefully legislated lies and terrified to be the careless parents who caused our children's deaths -- continue to purchase brand-new car seats every year, propping up a false economy and a false sense of security all at the same time.

Don't get me wrong... I generally think that an increase in concern over safety is a good thing. People shouldn't be careless with the lives of children, and letting an eight-year-old make complicated cuts with a band saw is probably a really, really bad idea.

Nonetheless, I think there comes a time when you have to recognize that what you are buying with your obsession with safety is nothing more than the illusion of control, and that what it's costing you is something you can't really afford to lose -- your peace of mind.

The fact is, life does not come with a Safety Guarantee. The only guarantee you get is taxes and a rough pine box. That's it

If you want to be free of fear, you have to accept this. You have to understand that you are not in control -- that Safety Consciousness is nothing more than a useful mindset. Your children are small and -- like all young creatures -- vulnerable.

You cannot legislate, elbow-pad, or pray away the chance that they might get hurt -- and badly. 

Either you have Faith that this reality you live in is Okay, and will turn out for the best, or you don't. But either way, the only thing you get for all your worries is ulcers and a lot of bad debt.

It's time to let go. 

It's time to live.


  1. This topic is something that I've given a lot of thought to the last few summers, coincidently coinciding with the time I've spent planting trees for the oil sands mines.

    While there, it is absolutely non-negotiable that one wear steel toe boots, long pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves, high visibility vest, safety glasses and hard hat at all times. It feels ridiculous to be wearing a hard hat in the middle of an open, grassy field where the only thing overhead is the occasional jet plane at 35,000 feet or perhaps a low orbiting satellite.

    This year was the most outlandish safety specs yet. We were planting beside a small lake and everyone who was within 25 meters of it was required to wear a life jacket. I'm not even kidding.

    Whereas mining takes safety to the extreme, forestry still lags behind. I've had many occasions foremanning where I was lucky to escape serious injury. Loading a quad with a bunch of boxes and then driving over extremely rough terrain just leads naturally to close calls.

    Now the safety guys at the mines can point to an enviable safety record. Thousands of employees work there every day with very few serious incidents. Sometimes millions of man hours pass without any lost time incident. However, there I feel degraded because I'm not allowed to think for myself. I feel like I'm being babysat and it is insulting.

    Foremanning on the cutblock, however, makes me feel alive. I've grown as a person there, though I guess I've had to risk my life to do so. I've developed self confidence and self reliance and discernment though these lessons came with undeniable risk. The question is what risks are acceptable and who should be the one to decide. I feel that planting beside a lake without a life jacket is an acceptable risk, but it wasn't my choice to make.

    These questions are important for raising kids too. How do you keep them safe while teaching them to be responsible for their own actions? I'll bet you understood machetes better after cutting your toe, and probably trusted your parents more if they told you that something is dangerous. (I assume that they mentioned the danger after they gave your five year old self that razor sharp machete!) What's that lesson worth.

    That being said, I'm not really sure how parents don't have a heart attack every time their child leaves their sight. I don't have kids, but if I ever do, I'm sure it will do wonders for my prayer life!

  2. Truly spoken, sir. I've seen some harsh, easily preventable injuries in tree-planting... but mostly they were just caused by young men (often myself) being stupid. You can't legislate away stupidity.


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