How would you define “Safety?”
Safety can mean so many things depending on the person, the context, or the situation. How would you define safety in your context? Have you always had a similar definition? Does safety for yourself as an individual look different than safety for your community?Created 01/25/2023 at 6:11 pm
In 2022, Nonviolent Peaceforce partnered with Peace Science Digest to collaborate on their special edition issue covering nonviolent approaches to safety and security. An excerpt from the issue (a part of the NP feature), gets at this question:
Thinking About “Safety” and “Security”
Many languages have only one word for safety and security: “Sicherheit” in German, “seguridad” in Spanish, “sécurité” in French. But in English, we have two distinct words—each springing from a different root and conjuring a different set of connotations. “Safe” comes from the Latin salvus, meaning “uninjured, healthy,” while “secure” comes from the Latin securus, “without care.”
Colloquially, many people—if not using them interchangeably—use these words to distinguish an external action from an internal feeling, defining “security” as relating to “a group’s efforts to protect its members from harm” and “safety” as relating to “a personal feeling of being free from harm or danger.”1
Due to a broader context of militarism, “security” has become closely associated with military and/or armed approaches to defense and protection. Abolitionist thinker Mariame Kaba defines “security” as, “a function of the weaponized state.” For her and fellow abolitionists, “safety” “means something else, because you cannot have safety without strong, empathic relationships with others. You can have security without relationships but you cannot have safety—actual safety—without healthy relationships.”2 As NP’s Director of Mutual Protection (U.S.) Kalaya’an Mendoza often puts it, “safety is cultivated, while security is enforced.”
Many academic definitions distinguish the two based on the level of intentionality behind a danger.3 To work on “safety” is to protect from hazards like natural disasters, snakebites, or muddy roads—but to work on “security” is to protect from threats that humans have intended. Other scholars further distinguish between “national security” (the defense of a country from military threats) and “human security” (the protection of actual human beings from a range of intended or unintended threats to their well-being)4 —the latter challenging us to think of “security” as much more closely aligned with common understandings of “safety.”
Distinguishing between these two forms of security helps draw attention to the way in which human security and national security can actually often be at odds, as the former is often violated in the quest for the latter, with civilians and soldiers alike paying with their lives for the elusive national security gains of military confrontations.
Despite the various definitional disagreements that abound over these words, one question comes into focus: What would it look like to create a world where we and our local and global neighbors feel safe and secure in our daily lives? Whatever these words mean to you—and whether you say “community safety” or “human security”—this article asks us to reflect on what it might take for everyone to live free of fear and full of dignity. How might we retrieve security from militarism and ground it in strong relationships instead of fear?
Created 01/26/2023 at 1:13 pm
- Kassabian, A. (2021, February 26). Differences between “security” and “safety.” VOA Learning English. Retrieved July 28, 2022
- Kaba, M. (2017, November 9). Towards the horizon of abolition: A conversation with Mariame Kaba. The Next System Project. Retrieved July 28, 2022
- For instance, see: Jore, S. H. (2019). The conceptual and scientific demarcation of security in contrast to safety. European Journal for Security Research, 4(1), 157-174.
- Paris, R. (2001). Human security: Paradigm shift or hot air? International Security, 26(2), 87-102
Oh wow, thank you for writing this, Claire! This is so helpful to have all of these conceptions of ‘safety’ laid out in one place!Created 01/30/2023 at 7:03 pm
Thanks for sharing this, Claire! I appreciate beginning with the consideration of the lack of distinct words in other languages. I’d have to agree with most if not all of the English distinctions between the two terms; while they are generally aligned, I associate security with militarism in a way that I don’t with safety. To that end, I really appreciate the question at the end, “How might we retrieve security from militarism and ground it in strong relationships instead of fear?”
In the United States context, I also tie the militarism to our law enforcement system and have noted that movements away from policing will embrace terms like “community safety”. All to say, this is very insightful, and I greatly appreciate the perspective.Created 01/31/2023 at 8:59 pm
By Anaïs Caput1
That was a great read indeed – I had struggled in the past to translate “safety & security” in my native language (French), but never connected it to this question of what is behind these two distinct concepts, and how we could inadvertently reduce them to something less encompassing based on our choice of words…
To go back to the initial questions of this discussion, it seems to me the key is to not assign a pre-defined definition of what safety and security mean to individuals and communities, and by letting them define what it means to them, we could uncover a lot of interesting dynamics related to exclusion, discrimination, etc. It seems a great concept to explore through the first pillar of the Peace Impact Framework! https://cnxus.org/peace-impact-framework/Created 02/06/2023 at 7:36 pm
In the context of Entrepioneers 2030, safety refers to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of our youth members and community as a whole. This includes providing a safe space for them to share their ideas and participate in our programs, as well as ensuring their protection from harm or abuse. Our definition of safety has remained consistent, but our approach to achieving it may have evolved as we have grown and learned more about the specific needs of our community.
As an individual, safety for myself may include personal security and protection from physical harm, but for Entrepioneers 2030, safety encompasses a broader range of concerns that impact the well-being of our community as a whole. This may include issues such as peace-building, no conflict issues, economic stability, access to education, and protection from discrimination or abuse.
In summary, Safety for Entrepioneers 2030 is ensuring the well-being and protection of our youth and community, while safety for oneself as an individual is personal security and protection from physical harm.Created 01/28/2023 at 1:28 am
Very interesting, Bassel! I think it’s especially interesting how for Entrepioneers 2030, the definition/meaning of safety remains the same even when achieving it often looks so differentCreated 01/30/2023 at 7:08 pm
Great to see what safety can mean from an organizational perspective! Related to Claire’s post, I’m curious if there are different words for “safety” & “security” in Arabic?Created 01/31/2023 at 9:01 pm
By Rose Ongech1
Indeed, ‘Safety’ would mean different things for different people based on the time, their situation, and their context. For example, the people suffering from prolonged droughts and their consequences would define safety differently from those in a war context. So safety for me would envisage a peaceful body mind and soul going about my daily routine.Created 02/09/2023 at 10:23 am
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