Handle with Care
One of the most popular words in the lexicon of modern society is “care.” People in general don’t like to be handled roughly. Of course, there are exceptions, such as arranged fights, or episodes of sexual passion. But we are delicate creatures, in comparison with the hard surfaces of our natural and man-made environment. When collisions occur, it is our human flesh and bone which are most likely to suffer (as the staff of any Emergency Room will tell you).
Skilled surgeons were not as available in centuries past – but that was, for one reason, because there was less need for them. In our progress towards a better society, we’ve also created all manner of new hazards, wounds, infections, and diseases. In the days when the fastest vehicles were horse-powered, the injuries suffered in an accident were far less likely to be life-threatening than they have since become, especially if the vehicle is one which travels through the air, with hundreds of people aboard.
“Safety” as a watch-word is one gift of these dangers to our contemporary vernacular. As a child, I was taught to equate the word with such precautions as care in crossing streets, obeying traffic signals, and not running out from between parked cars. “Safety First” meant that survival was more important than speed or comfort. Vehicles eventually came with an increasing number of safety features, such as shatter-proof glass, seatbelts, and padded interiors.
But meanwhile, we have been introducing all manner of “unsafety” features, such as portable telephones, narcotics, and built-in entertainment systems.
Of course, the occupants of modern vehicles are far safer, with their airbags and warning signals, than the unprotected pedestrians who may be in their way. During the “Hippie Era” of the 1960s, it became fashionable, among adherents of the “Counter Culture,” to contend that motorization was the way of the Past, not of the Future, and that the streets had to be “taken back,” in the interests of safety and civility. As a close observer of this scene, I was moved to immortalize the movement in one of the songs I wrote to the tunes of well-known melodies, this one using the song “Hey, Look Me Over”:
Hey, Run Me Over, all ‘round the town – See every chauffeur try to knock me down!
Streets are for people – that’s what people say – I figure that means a pedestrian should have the right of way –
But you can die being right, man, wrong people thrive – Stay out of sight, man, and you may survive –
So, if you want to live in security, avoiding violent shock – Just don’t ever leave your block!
Safety at sea, of course, is a different matter. Ever since the Titanic went down in 1912, there have been iceberg patrols and improved regulations about the number of lifeboats a ship must carry. But in that strange situation called wartime, the object of the game becomes to make conditions for the other side as unsafe as possible, while still trying to maximize the safety of your own side.
When it comes to shipping goods rather than people, different standards of safety apply. On the one hand, whatever is being shipped must be protected from all the hazards of rough handling and mechanical processing. (My own little company has experienced losses through the damage sometimes wrought upon such delicate items as Compact Discs by postal machines.) On the other hand, the Post Office and all its competitor shipping services are concerned about what may be in your package, which could be a hazard to those persons and devices handling it – which is why you may be asked to specify contents (as if any ill-intentioned person would be likely to give an accurate description of his bomb or poison gas).
For all our emphasis upon safety, and despite the remarkable fact that longevity appears to be on the increase (have you heard that “100 is the new 80”?) the world still remains a very dangerous place, habitation of which is inevitably fatal. Whatever safety we find is, sadly, only temporary. There are statistical signposts, such as that married people tend to live longer than those who stay single. But the ultimate death-rate is still a staggering 100%.
That is why such anodynes as religion, drugs, competitive sports, and political extremism are still so popular, and why so much of our economy is devoted to trying to ensure that, on our way into oblivion, we are still being handled with care.