I worry about the direction that our culture is going, in many ways. One of the main worries, though, is the migration towards “safety.” Don’t get me wrong, I am all about being safe and using good sense, but I would submit that we are sacrificing community and social interaction for a false sense of security. My wife and I lived in North Nashville, and we were continually asked if we felt that it was safe for our children. That apartment, in fact, was one of the only places that we lived where our daughter actually played outside with the neighbors. The reason, I am convinced, that the question continually came up, was that we were some of the only white people for several blocks in either direction.
The worry is not that we are getting more or less safe, but that our perceptions of safety are changing. We have recreated the walled and gated villas of the past and, between our fenced yard, our attached garage, and our parking garage at work, can go entire days and weeks without seeing someone from our neighborhood, let alone someone from around town. We are creating a sense of safety that is grounded in separation rather than reality. We are raising a generation of children who are housed in homogeneous zones that have a comfortable, rhythmic vibration of sameness.
Soon after we moved into our apartment in North Nashville, someone stole my roommates bike. There was some concern right off the bat that it might have been a bad idea to move into this area. But, he had an interesting perspective. He had attended Wheaton College, one of the largest and most well-to-do Christian schools in the country. His bike had been stolen there, too. His bike was no more safe among the crazy rich Christian youth of Wheaton College than among the crazy lower middle class youth of North Nashville. We assumed that a student at Wheaton had taken his bike before, and we assumed that someone from our new neighborhood had taken his bike this time. Neither of those assumptions were grounded in what we knew. They were both grounded in what we believed. If you live in a community that is walled and gated and your bike gets stolen, can you assume that someone must have scaled the wall and snagged the bike? I don’ think so.
We are ignoring the opportunities to bridge the gaps in the ways that the different people in our society relate to one another. We are forsaking life experience for comfort and homogeneity. I think that in our current global political climate, understanding our differences and finding ways to integrate our society are better tools for creating the reality of safety than retreating to the castle keep and defending our feeble, white bread, you’re-safe-if-you-look-like-me perspectives.
Holing ourselves up in out castles and pouring water in our suburban moats has been tried before. It doesn’t work.