Closed safety circuit
“It’s far safer to know too little than too much.” Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902), British novelist, composer and painter
The need for security is a growing leitmotif of our days. We encounter it among people in the office, in our families and in ourselves.
I think it’s one of the most interesting fallacies of postmodern man, and agree with Jeff Taylor that an excessive need for security costs a degree of creativity. “Well-trodden paths are the safest, but there’s always a lot of traffic on them.”
However, this need usually sets in early. Whether it was a lack of financial resources in our family that we grew up in, or the sense of fear and caution conveyed by illnesses, crises or the personality of a family member – the sword of Damocles hanging over our everyday life is something we later find difficult to shake off.
Some of us, in turn, constantly experience a disregard of our need for security and control – and thus end up overcompensating for our basic fear.
The result is that such people often live with a safety net under their feet, always choosing the safest way, taking out as many insurance policies as possible and taking no risks. Who hasn’t met such people?
Be it a father who rushes back from the car three times before leaving, to check whether the cooker really has been turned off; be it a colleague who arranges pens, cards, notes on her desk in geometric form; or a neighbour who needs to vigorously power-hose down an already spotless balcony – every weekend.
Now, such compulsive types of behaviour can easily be dismissed as amiable quirks. In part, they even fulfil an important function. For example, it’s possible to calm yourself down in a stressful situation by deliberately ‘misfiring’ your motor or vocal actions – grimacing, exaggerated laughter, even talking to yourself.
Sociologists believe such ‘compensatory acts’ provide the same security as a habitual rituals offer and thus relieve tension. We’re all a little crazy, after all.
It becomes difficult, however, when we begin to cultivate our cherished fads and arrange them into a fixed pattern. At some point, we can no longer decide freely out of fear of what might happen. The fad controls us instead of us trying to control it.
This striving for security thus costs us the lightness of being. Against such compulsions, I was always grateful for the admonishing maxim that made it onto the canteen wall in the company where I did my first internship. “If you never act because you’re afraid of catching the wrong moment, you’re guaranteed to miss the right one.”
Most certainly, the need for security is natural. Even Luther, in his 95 Theses, rendered paradise or perfect faith with the Latin word securitas.
The only problem is the exaggeration in an eternally revolving cycle. In the words of philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, “if everything is subordinated to security, freedom is clearly the victim.”
There is some hope at least, however, for quirky personalities. The Scottish psychiatrist David Weeks found in 1995, after ten years of research with more than 1,000 eccentrics, that people with many quirks are better off than those without any. They are less likely to be mentally ill or addicted to drugs and have an exceptionally good immune system.
I just don’t know if the security fanatics are amongst them.