playing it safe

Today on the radio I heard a commercial for a TV news report on local restaurants.  It was one of those “we look out for you” kind of news stories, and the ad for it was an upbeat and jazzy litany of things that they would investigate about local places.  Are they clean? Who has the best food?  Best ambiance for family? And then, as a throwaway line spoken so fast that you might miss it:

And of course we all want to know if our restaurants are safe…so tune into and watch…

Really? Is that what we’re all worried about?  Actually, I have never once wondered whether or not a restaurant was safe. I worry about the food being bad, or being overpriced, or whether or not my daughter will throw food at someone. I have even eaten at restaurants in places that are arguably less than safe, but I’ve never thought much about my own personal safety inside the restaurant. I have never once worried that that I or someone I loved was likely be mugged by a misunderstood plate of hash browns.  But judging by the commercial, I wonder…am I supposed to be afraid of something every time I leave the house?

Why was this line in the commercial? If I had to guess, it’s that fear has a kind of currency that nothing can match. If you want attention, if you want viewership, if you want to get people get on board with you, then few tricks work as well as fear.  I don’t think, though, that the creators of this commercial were doing any kind of intentional fear-mongering. It looks to me like they just needed one more line to make the commercial sound complete, and this was as good as anything.

Which tells me that we must not be doing a very good job, as a culture, of bringing critical thought to bear on the issue of fear.   It’s fairly banal to say that “we all think about our safety when going out for a meal” except of course for the fact that none of us do, really, until the commercial gets us thinking about it.

It’s a silly example, I realize. But it does highlight how images and thoughts of “fear” can sneak into the ways we communicate with one another, and even do harm.  We use this idea of “safety” as a shorthand that demands attention, but I prefer to challenge us to be a little more fearless. Or, at least, a little less willing to accept the idea that safety is always, always, always the first thing we need to be thinking about.


About bernardowens

I'm an Episcopal priest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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