What is a ‘safe person’?

I feel as though I have to start this post by clearly stating what it’s not about. This post is not about safety pins. Other people have already written about safety pins, and I’m not going to link to those articles because this post is not about that.

This post is about a concept that seemed to arise at around the same time as safety pins. There is an idea that someone can use a symbol to show others that they are a ‘safe person’. This idea confuses me. The more I try to figure this out, the more tangled my thoughts get. So, I’m going to try unpack this idea, but I’m not sure whether this will alleviate my confusion.

What is a safe person?

This is my main issue with the concept. I don’t really know what a safe person is. I’ve asked several people to explain to me what a safe person is, and I’ve received a variety of responses. Those responses are so varied that the concept seems almost meaningless.

So, I’m going to focus on what a safe person would be for me. When I look at people who I trust, they’re people who I know well. They’re people who understand me and they understand enough of my history to know where my weak spots are. Importantly, they use their knowledge of my weak spots to help me when I need help, rather than trying to exploit them.

The idea that someone can show strangers that they’re a safe person seems weird to me because of that. To earn someone’s trust, especially when that person has a history of being mistreated, you have to let them get to know you before they can decide that you’re a safe person for them.

Can someone decide that they are a safe person themselves?

If I want to show others that I am a safe person, that means that I have decided that I am a safe person. This feels weird to me. How can I decide that I am a safe person? I get that the majority of people really want to not harm others, but marginalised groups experience harm in a multitude of ways. How can I be sure that I’m not perpetuating further harm? It’s impossible to know every stranger’s history, so it’s impossible to know just by looking at them what would help and what would harm. If that’s the case, then I can’t declare myself a safe person because I can never be sure that I am. It should be up to other people to decide whether I am a safe person for them. Surely?

In addition to that, someone deciding that they are a safe person seems similar to someone deciding that they are an ally. Both concepts, ally and safe person, are based on actions. They are not titles which someone bestows on themselves. If someone has already decided that they’re a safe person, an ally, a Good Person, then they become less inclined to listen when people tell them that they’re doing wrong. When someone’s concept of self becomes inherently tied to the idea that they’re a good person, it becomes harder for them to receive criticism about their actions. Criticising their actions gets interpreted as criticising them as a person, and it hurts. So, people get defensive and that defensiveness gets in the way of changing their actions and doing better.

Who is this really for?

I can’t help wondering who this is really for. Who benefits from a person wanting to show others that they’re a safe person? I don’t think other people benefit from it because deciding that someone is a safe person takes time. It’s not a bad thing to want to feel good about ourselves, but I don’t know whether wanting to feel good about ourselves should be the primary concern when the goal is to help others.

As you can see, I don’t really have the answers to the questions above. I just really want people to start asking themselves similar questions before they insist that they’re a safe person. The majority of the time, the people who are insisting that they’re safe people are simultaneously dismissing and silencing the people that they’re supposedly providing safety to, and those don’t seem like the actions of a ‘safe person’.