An Outdoor View: On safety

While listening to the two presidential candidates the other day, I got to wondering about whether electing either him or her would make the U.S. safe again, something both claimed they would do.

I don’t buy the “again” part of that claim. We’re probably safer today than we’ve ever been.

Life on Earth has never been safe. I hear old-timers wishing they could go back to the good-old days of the 1950s, 60s or 70s. They’ve conveniently forgotten the racial tension and riots, the wars in Southeast Asia and the Cold War, a time when everyone on Earth was living with the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

Safety ebbs and flows. When the batteries in your home smoke detectors are fully charged, you’re relatively safe. As they lose their charge, you’re less safe.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, you’re more likely to be killed in a head-on collision with a vehicle driven by a sleep-deprived dip-netter than by a terrorist.

What’s different today is that there are more crazed people running around than ever before. What’s different is that technology now gives people everywhere on Earth the ability to go to Facebook and watch and listen in horror while people are being killed. What concerns me most is the number of zealots who are killing innocent people. That’s just insane.

Safety is such a fleeting thing. When we’re young, it’s the last thing on our minds. Feeling safe is boring. We think we know it all, although we’re ignorant about almost everything. Lacking knowledge and experience, we sometimes don’t even know when we’re about to do something that could injure or kill us.

When I was in my early teens, I loved being on or in the water. My friends and I did things that make me wonder how any of us survived. Were we safe? It didn’t matter. We were immortal.

The son of one of my dad’s friends accidentally shot and killed his younger brother with a shotgun. In spite of this, my dad trusted me enough when I was 14 to let me borrow his 12-gauge shotgun and hunt with one of my buddies. Were we safe? My dad and I thought we were.

As a kid, I used to walk a mile or so down the railroad tracks to go fishing. Trains were busy back then, carrying logs and lumber. When one came along, I’d step aside and enjoy the rumbling, earth-shaking chaos of it all. Was I safe? I thought so. The engineers must’ve thought so, because they always smiled and waved.

We learn by experience not to try to pet growling dogs or to pick up rocks that have been in a campfire. After a trip or two to the hospital, we begin to get an inkling of what it’s like to be a grownup. Safety is for grownups to worry about, not kids.

We have less to fear today. We’re living longer than ever before. Our work and play are safer than ever. Everyday living has become so safe and humdrum that more and more people are taking up extreme sports.

As much as I wish “making us safe again” were as easy as banning guns that in any way resemble assault rifles, such laws have little or no effect. There is no “silver bullet” for the insanity going on around the world, despite what either of the presidential candidates imply.

How do you stop insanity? I don’t know, but I do know that spreading fear and hate only serves to add fuel to the fire.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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Author’s note: This column first appeared in the Clarion on Nov. 29, 2002. I’ve edited it slightly for brevity.

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