Safety pins

16 Nov. 2016

After having an unexpectedly productive last 12 hours or so (except for getting only 5 or so hours of sleep), I thought I’d post on something I’ve been thinking about the past few days.

There’s been a fair bit of talk on social media about safety pins, and whether wearing them is a show of support that could actually help vulnerable people feel safe, or whether it is a sad way for white people to help themselves alleviate their guilt and to feel good about themselves in the face of recent events.

In thinking about this, I’ve been very influenced by my friends who are pioneers in the area of contextual behavioral sciences (CBS). In CBS, a distinction is made between the topography of a behavior (what the behavior looks like – for example, wearing a safety pin), and the function of that behavior (what actual effect the behavior has – what purpose it serves). In this way, many different behaviors that take different forms (topographies) can serve similar functions, and depending upon factors like context, motivation,et cetera, identical behaviors (like wearing a pin) can have very different functions for different people (and in different contexts). Sorry for the minor geek-out, but this point feels important to me here.

From this perspective, wearing the safety pin could either be a powerful statement to ourselves and others, or a meaningless effort at self-congratulation. It all depends on the *function* of wearing the pin, which again, depends on the context of the pin-wearing (whether, for example, the pin-wearer engages in other, real-world efforts to make things better for vulnerable people), and the motivation of the person wearing it.

So here’s the point. I’m wearing a safety pin, and will be doing so in the near future. I’ve even thought about getting a tattoo of a safety pin on my left inside-wrist/forearm. There are a few reasons for this:

First, if there’s a chance that someone who is feeling scared, hurt, or vulnerable sees that pin and realizes that they have an ally in me, that makes it worth wearing. For me, the pin represents not only that I won’t harm them, but that I will listen to them, will actively intervene if I see them being victimized, and will continue to advocate on their behalf in other ways.

Secondly, I’m aware that wearing the pin may elicit negative reactions from those who don’t understand what it means. I’m hoping that some of those reactions might turn into interactions that give me the opportunity to explain to these people why I wear the pin, and to help them empathize with the very real experience of vulnerable people everywhere, so that maybe we can be less divided, and there can be more allies.

Finally, and most importantly, the main reason I’m wearing the pin is as a reminder to myself. As a straight, white, cis-gendered male, it is so easy for my good intentions to support others to slip off of my radar, replaced by the omnipresent and overfull to-do list. It’s so easy for the victimization of others to be invisible to me, because almost none of it affects me in any direct way. I’d never mean to forget, but it’s just too easy for that to happen. But when I put on this pin in the morning, and every time I see it on my chest, it is a visible reminder of my intention to fight for the welfare of vulnerable others, and to use my voice and my life in ways that can be helpful to them. To put my money, my time, and my effort where my mouth is.

Historically, this has been effective for me…from wearing a mala beneath my clothes to help me carry my spiritual practice motivation through the day, to carrying a British pound in my pocket to remind me of my compassionate intention (a pound because it has heft and reminds me of England, where I first learned about CFT from my friend Paul Gilbert).

Anyway, that’s why I wear the pin. It’s all about function. So I’d like to encourage you to find ways to help yourself make sure that the way you live your life matches your values and your commitment to them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *