Safety Is Not The Objective

I had an unpleasant experience this week. The gas company came out because someone smelled natural gas. It turns out that my furnace was malfunctioning, and the man from the gas company disconnected the supply to the furnace. It had to be repaired or replaced by certified repair personnel before it could be turned back on. Of course, it happened on the weekend, but I was happy that it wasn?t in the middle of the below-zero temperatures of the prior week and that I had some electric heaters that kept it warm enough. I met with the furnace guy on Monday, and by early Tuesday afternoon, we had heat.

The gas company was following safety regulations. The repair technician had training in safe installation. Everything about handling natural gas is geared around safety, because the consequences can be disastrous for many people. I have seen what happens when an entire house explodes from ignition of a natural gas leak.

Still, the objective of the gas company or the furnace dealer is not safety. The objective is to earn a profit by giving customers something that they value enough to part with some of their hard-earned money. They do that by providing a comfortable living space for families and making a dangerous substance safe for every day use by ordinary people who don?t have specialized training and skills. That is pretty amazing. The furnace manufacturer and the local dealer did not know that I would need something on that day, yet there it was. Their objective was a satisfied customer. Safety was only one of the many attributes of that satisfaction.

I recently heard someone recount an injury that ocurred in a high school gym class, playing an active, competitive game that kids love, mainly because it is active and competitive. That is what kids need and want. As a result of the injury, however, that game was discontinued in all schools, in spite of the fact that the injury was not the result of any inherent danger in the game. It was inherent in growing up a happy, healthy, active human being. Kids get scrapes, bruises, and broken bones. That is part of the process. Yes, we do want to protect our kids from risks they don’t understand, but we want them to grow up not fearing, but rather embracing life with all its risks.

The job of a parent, and the real job of a teacher, is to get kids interested in life, in learning, and growing, physically and intellectually. Falling down and getting up again is part of that process. A major failure of modern education and much parenting is that safety seems to be the objective. When a University determines that they need to offer safe spaces to protect students from ideas they consider offensive, they are forsaking their fundamental purpose, which is to expose young minds to new ideas that challenge their old ways of thinking and force them to become adults who can think on their own, who learn how to take risks, and who learn how to overcome obstacles. All education should result in adults who aren’t afraid of facing the unknown or the challenging.

Maturity is knowing that growth requires expanding beyond what you already know, and that expanding requires taking risks of various sorts that exist in uncomfortable reality. People who never take risks never grow, and that is not good for them, for their families, or for society. All progress in life comes from exploring the unknown, but the unknown itself carries inherent dangers. Yes, mitigate risks to the extent possible, but safety is not the objective, it is only a tool.

Dan McLaughlin is the author of “Compassion and Truth–Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results.” Follow him at