My Safety Pin

November 16, 2016

My work is essentially social. Everyday I have the privilege of interacting with many amazing people who are very different from me, different in terms of racial and ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, upbringing, political affiliation, sex, language and countless other ways. In his essay “The Value of Philosophy,” philosopher Bertand Russell outlines two possible responses that we can have when encountering people, things and ideas that are different from ourselves. The first response is one of fear and defensiveness, to view the other as a possible threat to me and my narrowly constructed world. Life, for those who choose this first response, “is shut up within the circle of private interests” where rigid lines are drawn between the self and the other. Inevitably, this life is led defensively. It is a life in which “we remain like a garrison in a beleaguered fortress” desperately trying to make diverse world conform to our own image. Russell writes that “in such a life there is no peace,” not for the self and certainly not for those regarded as other.

The second response does not “divide the universe into two hostile camps — friend and foes, helpful and hostile, good or bad” but rather chooses to view the self as but one interconnected piece of a world that is much grander precisely because it is different from me. As Russell argues, the self who chooses this path “will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, . . . it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe consists man's true freedom, and his liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears.”

I choose this second path. I choose to live a life that is not circumscribed by the fear of the unfamiliar, but rather to live in constant awe and admiration of all that I can learn from those who are different from me. I choose to realize that my perspective is but one tiny view of a vast reality, and that openess to the views held by others doesn’t limit or threaten me, but rather enlarges my own vision of the world.

The safety pin I wear is a symbol of commitment to this second response. It is also symbolic of my resolve to do everything within my power to resist efforts that might threaten the grand and beautiful diversity in which each day I am privileged to partake. I will not meet such threats with bland legalisms or appeals to my own powerlessness. I will meet them honestly, directly and as fearlessly as I can. That is the meaning of my pin.