Vulnerability:  Are We Safe?

Our concerns about vulnerability play a central role in how we see the world. Whether as passing thoughts or haunting worries, we often wonder if we’re safe, if the people we care about are in harm’s way, and if there might be danger on the horizon. Right or wrong, our judgments on these matters go a long way in determining the choices we make and the actions we take. This focus on vulnerability isn’t surprising. If our survival or well-being appears to be in doubt, if fear leaps to the forefront, other thoughts and feelings are quickly pushed aside.

Specific concerns vary from one person to the next, in part because the range of possible threats is so broad. For some, life itself may hang in the balance: the homeless person on a frigid winter night; the cancer victim unable to afford urgent treatment; the soldier under fire on a battlefield. For others, the concerns are more about the daily struggle to get by: the low-wage worker with more bills to pay than money in the bank; the immigrant family confronting prejudice in their new neighborhood; the high school graduate unable to afford college or the college graduate burdened with years of student debt.

Whatever our actual circumstances may be, when we think we’re in jeopardy we look for ways to reduce that danger. Only when we think we’re safe do we comfortably turn our attention elsewhere. However, we’re not very good at accurately assessing real risks or effective responses to them. As a result, often we either exaggerate threats or underestimate perils — especially when others intentionally mislead us to advance their own agenda.