A Delusion of Safety

Our apartment in Denmark was on the first floor (second floor in American numbers). We were protected by two doors, thick walls and windows, and an entire apartment beneath us. We were living in the nice part of town. I never worried about being alone in the house.

Now we live in Suburbia. This isn’t just the nice part of town, this is a nice town. But there’s only one door between us and the outside world. The windows stay open (when the air conditioning isn’t on). You don’t even need a ladder to get to them – you can pretty much just give yourself a leg up and hop in. Sure, there’s a screen, but it’s there to stop insects, not burglars.

“Oh, but this is such a safe place! It’s not dangerous here like the nasty big city.” Right. If it’s so safe, why can’t children play in their front gardens unsupervised? Why is it dangerous to accept home-made treats on Halloween? (Answer: they could be filled with glass shards or worse. I’m not kidding, I’ve been warned about this when I was little.) There are thieves everywhere, and worse than thieves. And I can’t shake that terrible paranoid feeling of being unprotected.

I never used to feel this way. It’s all relative. I suppose we live our whole lives in a delusion of safety, assuming that we are not in danger simply because it’s unlikely that we are. If this were a book or a movie, the message would be that that is a terrible thing and we should always be on our guard. I don’t think that’s quite a good message. While it’s true we should always be watchful and exercise common sense, we can’t go around fearing for our lives all the time. It’s counterproductive. Take that fear to the logical extreme, and – no, there is no logical extreme. So long as we are mortal, we can always die. Refusing to accept that will probably lead to madness. Weird as it may seem, living in delusion is a natural, human thing to do. When we evolved enough to comprehend our own mortality, we must also have developed this automatic defense mechanism – this delusion, this optimism, this irrational certainty that while we will die someday, surely it won’t be anytime soon.

I take comfort in that, somehow. In knowing that this delusion is good for me. I don’t feel like I have to fight it and “realize the truth,” because I know that that’s not going to be useful. “The truth will set you free,” they say. I’m not sure if this is arguing for or against that. All I know is that I actually feel better now than I did at the beginning of this post. While I still look at the window beside me with suspicion, half expecting evil ninjas to burst through it, now I can tell myself not to worry – not because ninjas are unlikely, because unlikely things happen all the time, but because it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do about the ninjas, right? So why worry?

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