Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Creating and sustaining safety in our world

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 12-03-2023 7:00 PM

It’s no easy feat to create and sustain safety in our contemporary and crazy world. Governments and communities worldwide have tried and failed to do so. People everywhere are feeling increasingly unsafe, scared, and scarred by both the threats and realities of living in an ever more violent world. Why so, and how can we change these feelings and these realities going forward?

Safety, as we know and understand it, is predicated on one major thing: trust. Whether we’re speaking about emotional and/or physical safety, it evolves and sustains itself only if we trust the people we are with, the people who hold power, and the circumstances we find ourselves in.

For people to feel safe, both as individuals and within groups, they must perceive that equity and justice are necessary aspects of their humanly created environment. The lack of either inhibits both the growth of trust and the feeling of emotional and physical safety.

Here in Greenfield, I wonder if we can place our trust in — and feel safe with and protected by — our local police department and its leadership? Are our children feeling emotionally and physically safe inside their public schools on a daily basis? Do people of color and other minorities in our city trust that our local government and its leadership will serve them equally no matter the particulars and circumstances? Do all Greenfielders have assurance that their meals, housing, heating, and activities in daily living are covered, protected, and supported? Do we all feel safe sharing our opinions and points of view about Hamas/Israel, Ukraine/Russia, and other issues both domestically and internationally wherein conflict and a wide disparity of perspectives exist? Our individual and collective responses will indicate the extent and degree of our feelings of safety and trust within the parameters of our home community.

If police, politicians, those with wealth and power seek only to maintain their status quo of power and authority over others (as is all too often the case, including here in Greenfield), then many of the people living under this pernicious form of power-over feel unsafe. This lack of safety leads to a sense of disempowerment, voicelessness, bewilderment, and, frequently, a silencing of their personhood.

Marginalized groups in our society, and those elsewhere around the world, are those who are most easily targeted and have the hardest time speaking their truth to that power and control. Witness what we read, hear about, even experience daily with children, those differently abled, the elderly, those with cognitive or emotional challenges, people of color and those of Indigenous heritage, women, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+, religious and faith-based minorities, and others. Add them up, and you have well more than half the world that lives under unsafe conditions on a daily basis. Institutionalized and systemic oppression is based on two things: fear and ignorance.

What does it take to create and build safety in a world where so many are persecuted and ignored?

There is no equation or simple answer that responds fully to such a complex question. However, we know from even a cursory glance at world and local history that when “the people” (those who are oppressed, marginalized, and disempowered) collaborate with each other, when they access support and affiliation with groups not specifically targeted, they can potentially be successful in closing the power/control and lack of trust gap. Perhaps there is some degree of safety in numbers?

Safety and trust of any kind are built slowly, carefully, from the ground up. Trust, after all, must also be earned over time. It arises only out of consistent behavior and speech. When we bond together across demographic and other divides, we at least have the opportunity to generate safety and trust. This means living with “power with” as opposed to “power over.” In politics, as in government — from the national scene to the most local community scene — we observe and experience power over and most of us feel unsafe because of this.

Typically, when people feel unsafe, one of two things is likely to happen: either we hide and go “underground” or we fight back in some manner to (re)claim our voices and our agency. In my mind, the results of the people’s vote last month in our city of Greenfield created significant change and was a statement vote for our city government to become more inclusive, transparent, collaborative, and, ultimately, safer and more trustworthy. We can now look forward to an honest and open opportunity to work together for the benefit and safety of all our residents, citizens, and workers. To me, this is hope personified and the rebirth of trust in the public domain. What a critical and exciting New Year’s gift!

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at