Is it possible that words or phrases we use have exactly the opposite effect on the reader that we intended? One that comes to mind and we find included in almost every message, letter, or other communication we receive is “Be Safe.” This seemingly innocuous phrase, well meaning and well intended, can trigger concerns in one.

I’m told that our primeval brain reacts to certain terms. Let’s say you are walking through the jungle and someone comes up to you and says “be safe.” Is not a possible reaction “why”, is there something I need to ‘be safe’ from?

The term is a constant reminder that something horrible is lurking over my shoulder. I need to be cognizant of that and “be safe.” Is it necessary to tell someone walking through the jungle filled with savage beasts the necessity of “being safe?” Don’t I already know that? Does one not get a little tired of hearing the phrase over and over and over.

When Sgt. Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues ended every briefing with “Let’s Be Careful Out There” he knew he was sending his policemen and women into danger. Every time. He needed to remind them that the world was a dangerous place and they were going right into ground zero of that danger. He was reminding them to use their skills and training to keep out of situations that could be dangerous, even fatal.

But does the average person on the street need a constant reminder of just what is lurking around each corner. Do they need to have their ‘fight or flight’ response triggered every time they meet someone or receive a letter or message? I think that we feel we are expressing concern with “be safe” and probably are, but can it be overdone.

Can the very words we use, like ‘be safe’ have the exact opposite effect we want them to? I believe that the use of the term is in most cases well meaning. But does it, even subliminally, add to the stress of the day? I get a message telling me about the birth of a baby, and it ends with “be safe.” Do I really need that trigger at that time? For a few moments I’m happy hearing about a blessed event, then drawn back into the terrors of daily life.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. Manny —

    We have spent the last year “taking Covid Seriously.” Everywhere we turn we take Covid seriously. Our government takes Covid Seriously, our schools take Covid Seriously, the bodega on the corner takes Covid seriously. Don’t you get just a little tired of it? According to the most recent stats the chances of me testing positive to Covid are less than 3 in 100. And if I’m under 55, the changes of me dying are less than 3 in 1000. If I”m over 55 the odds go up. So be it. Have we not gotten so embroiled in Covid this and Covid that that we have forgotten how to live? I’m glad my blog ‘triggered’ you. Nothing is worse than indifference. Happy Christmas to you and yours.


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