Official Barbara Kois Website
The Danger of Safety

Safety pic
Sometimes when I drive to work on the expressway, I see people repairing potholes. I count the number of vehicles involved in this process and – I kid you not – there are eight vehicles blocking traffic so that two people can fill a pothole with a diameter of approximately twelve inches. You got it right: one foot in diameter and it takes eight vehicles that block two lanes of traffic so that two people can pour material in and fill the hole.


One time, after I was late for work because of this situation, I called the road repair folks, having gotten the number from the side of one of the trucks at the scene, to suggest that this might be done with fewer vehicles and at a time other than rush hour.


I was told that the eight vehicles are there to make sure the two individuals doing the actual work are safe – safe from speeding cars going by, although no one is speeding or doing anything but crawling when two lanes of traffic are blocked off. Safety?


At the train station in my town, two workers were weeding along the side of the parking lot recently and they had eight parking spots blocked off so the two could weed. Would they not be safe if cars were parked in the spaces? The amazing thing is that the next day, after presumably a full eight-hour shift of weeding for two people, only a twenty-foot edge of the parking lot was complete and they moved on to the next eight cars to block off. I’m a gardener and it doesn’t take me eight hours by myself to weed a patch of my yard that’s twenty by eight.


Switching topics but still on point, at the end of my mother’s life, she lived in a nursing home. She’d had a nice condo in a senior living facility but once she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they whisked her into the nursing home portion of the place “for her safety.” Neither she, nor her husband, nor her adult children had any say in the matter because of the fine print in the documents they had signed when entering the facility. Into the nursing home she went and that was that.


She had not driven for several years and she never set the kitchen cabinets on fire cooking or anything like that. She wasn’t a wanderer, so that wasn’t a problem either. But for her “safety,” all of her freedom was summarily taken from her. My poor mother had no freedom whatsoever when she lived in the nursing home. She was fed, had her hair done, was helped with bathing and sat in a chair listening to a neighbor’s blaring TV even though she deplored TV – because she wouldn’t be “safe” in her condo.


I’m not saying that Alzheimer’s isn’t a very serious condition that requires help. I only mention my mother’s situation because at the time I thought, I bet she’d rather be able to sit in her own living room and decide what and when to eat and wash her own laundry than having someone do everything for her because she was supposedly incapable.


What would have been so unsafe if she had been able to dig in her small garden or take a walk around the block? In fact, another man I knew who had Parkinson’s was planting his tomato plants in his yard when he keeled over and he died a couple of days later. Now that’s the way to go!


If someone had been keeping him “safe,” he might have been sitting in a wheelchair so he didn’t fall over. But he was allowed to live fully until the last minute. Freedom – and the ability to be responsible for our own selves, actions and consequences – is one of the greatest blessings we have. And I treasure it, understanding the risks that attend it.


I’ll take the consequences for my freedom over “safety” any day.


On the bright side, now that technology seems to be giving us driver-less cars, older or infirm people won’t have to be restricted to walking or getting rides anymore. All they need is one of those new cars to get around in – safely.

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