The world is a dangerous place and everyone needs their own safe place. Every day there are new threats we need to be on our guard against natural disasters, hate crimes, and terrorist attacks.
The list goes on. But you don’t notice that from how many people think about security. There are entire industries that have specialized in the fact that there are places where you are safer than others. Whether you avoid certain cities at night or never go to rural areas, the advice is pretty much the same: stay away from danger.
These security beliefs may seem harmless, but they have very real implications for how we see the world and interact with other people. If you believe that certain places are less safe than others, then you’re more likely to design your life to support that belief — perhaps by limiting your travel or housing choices based on crime statistics, rather than cost or being close to friends or family.
While these beliefs aren’t always directly responsible for keeping us from putting ourselves in danger, they can influence our behaviour in ways that often end up putting us in danger.
Why do we think the world is a dangerous place?
There are many reasons people can perceive the world as a dangerous place rather than a safe place. Depending on your age, you may have heard stories of violent crimes that have happened to others in the past, but not you. For example, looking at data on crime rates in the United States over time shows that violent crime and property crime have been declining since the early 1990s. However, people don’t seem to notice this trend.
Although the likelihood of being a victim of violent crime has decreased, in the minds of many people, the likelihood of being a victim of property crime has increased. Why is that? A big part of this is the way we process information: what sticks in our minds, how we categorize and remember it, and how we intend to use it.
The Myth of Safe Places
Most of the time we don’t notice which places are safe. And the places that are dangerous don’t seem so. We notice what is unusual, like a car accident or an argument that turns violent. In the places where there are no car accidents or violent confrontations, we don’t notice and don’t think about it.
We also tend to perceive what supports our existing worldview. If you’re visiting a new area and you realize that it seems like a fairly safe place, you probably won’t give it much thought. But if you hear a gunshot while you’re out walking, you’re more likely to hear it, and it can leave a lasting impression.
Where You’re Actually Not Sure (And Why)
When you hear the news about a statistic like “the US is safer than ever,” you might have the instinct to disagree. If you are feeling insecure, you may want to believe that you were safer in the past so that you will feel safer now. If you think the world is getting more and more dangerous, you may be concerned about your safety and the safety of your family.
These feelings can be amplified by the way we process information. For example, if you look at the overall crime statistics for a particular location, you may not remember all the details of each stat, such as the type of crime and the relative risk involved. You may only remember that the total number of crimes was higher in the past and your supposed safe place is the complete opposite for you.
Of course, there are certain precautions that you can take for your own safety, especially in exceptional situations. You can find additional on the Fema website.
The myth of trust and intimacy
Another way places can seem less safe is that you’re less familiar with them. This may be because you have less experience of the place or because you have less contact with people from that area. When we are less familiar, we often have less trust, which can make us feel less safe in areas we associate less with trust.
So where is the safe place?
There is no perfectly safe place, city or neighbourhood where all people are good. However, there are places where the majority of people are good and where there is a greater likelihood of experiencing that good. So there is no fixed place where you feel safe. Rather, it is a combination of how you feel and how others behave. Where you feel safe can change over time. And it can differ from person to person. What feels safe for you may not be for someone else.
The world is certainly not a safe place. There is no place in the world where one can be sure of being protected from the dangers of human greed and fear. However, you can be aware of the ways in which your security concerns can lead you to put yourself at risk.
When meeting new people and places, you can pay attention to your safety beliefs. What did you notice? What are you ignoring? How do you decide if a place is safe? How can you keep an open mind even when your instinct tells you it’s wrong?