Provision #605: Safety Needs

Laser Provision

Ever hear of “comfort food”? Of course you have! In fact, most readers know exactly which foods do it for them. What about “comfort beads” and “comfort companions”? Here, too, most people know their favorite practices and partners when they’re looking for reassurance, protection, and support. What about “comfort conditions”? We may take it for granted, but the rule of law does much to secure the liberties and lifestyles we enjoy. All these fall into the category of safety needs, the focus of today’s Provision.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I wrote about the needs that arise by virtue of our coming to life. I called them “existential needs” since they come to be as soon as we come to be. We all know the ones I am talking about. They are that universal: nourishment, health, sensory stimulation, hygiene, and nurturing. I also acknowledged the role of opportunity and timing when it comes to existence. Whether you believe in God, fate, evolution, or luck, the fact that we are consciously aware of being here at all is rather amazing. Consciousness is the capstone of creation.

Once we take care of those basic human needs, others immediately come into play and I put comfort at the head of the list. My earliest childhood memory is a trauma • one my mother has no recollection of, as is often the case. I was a very small child, watching television in my underwear while my mother went next door to visit with a neighbor. That’s when a test of the emergency broadcast system took place on the television. At the same time as the television was screeching, the phone rang and a timer went off in the kitchen. I was spooked to say the least.

So I ran outside, in my underwear, to find my mother next door. What did I want? You guessed it: comfort! I jumped in her lap and remember being held as my mother and Mrs. Street tried to figure out what was wrong.

Every child goes through multiple such moments. We even have words to describe such conditions and phases of early childhood development. Separation anxiety, for example, comes along predictably at about the eight-month mark. From one moment to the next, an infant who knows no strangers suddenly becomes terrified at the prospect of being handed off to anyone other than the primary caregivers. They can be inconsolable until the one they know best returns.

The need for comfort does not end with infancy. It is a lifelong quest which, in part, explains the pair-bonding of human relationships. It is extremely comforting to think that someone will be there for you no matter what: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

The need for comfort also explains, in part, many other human associations. When my wife and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia in 2002, we looked around for religious congregations, service clubs, athletic associations, and other special interest groups. Although we had certain ideas as to what we were looking for, there was certainly an emotional component to the search. We wanted to affiliate where we felt comfortable.

Such affiliations are, of course, two-edged swords. One person’s affiliation is another person’s exclusion. My safety and protection can be your vulnerability and threat. Warring factions, from families to tribes to terrorist organizations to nation states, all frame their interests in similar terms: they want to secure justice and comfort for their people, often at the expense of the other side.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however, and the movement to peace starts with the recognition that comfort is a universal human need. It doesn’t matter what language people speak. It doesn’t matter where they stand in terms of economic development. It doesn’t matter what their other values might be. Everyone needs places where they feel safe, secure, and respected. That’s true throughout the human lifespan. The sooner we understand and appreciate the reality of that need the sooner we may learn to accept the affiliations of others when they are different from our own.

The need for comfort is a strong generator of human feelings and driver of human behaviors. We see that in ourselves whenever we feel uncomfortable. That’s when we pull out the chocolate or whatever may be our favorite comfort food. That’s when we get out our prayer beads as a tool for meditation. That’s when we call a friend or family member for consolation. Everyone has their own strategies for meeting this need, and some work better than others.

The classic response, evidenced more by males than females, is fight, flight, or freeze. Since I feel uncomfortable, there must be enemies to either attack (if we think we have the upper hand) or hide from (if we think they have the upper hand). It’s the proverbial law of the jungle which continues to this day in every aspect of human relations. Unfortunately, viewing people as enemies makes for temporary solutions at best. We may win the battle, but we never win the war. By failing to recognize the universal need for comfort, we fail to search for win-win solutions.

Researchers have also identified a different response, evidenced more by females than males, known as tend and befriend. Since I feel uncomfortable, there must be allies who I can give comfort to and receive comfort from. In the evolution of traditional, male-dominated societies, women have often found themselves in uncomfortable positions with no good options. They have therefore learned the importance of empathy and consideration in the management of human affairs. They understand that all people need comfort and that it takes caring to make it so.

Self-caring is an important part of the equation. There is no one, universal strategy for self-caring. Everyone has different preferences and patterns when it comes to the things that make them feel good. Some people eat chocolate while others go for a run. Some people breathe deep while others clean their sink. Some people talk with friends while others get a massage. Whatever it takes to feel comfortable, do it! Our ability to make others comfortable depends upon our ability to make ourselves comfortable.

That said, caring for others is often a wonderful way to care for ourselves. It’s not called “tend and befriend” for nothing. There is reciprocity when it comes to comfort. The more we extend comfort the more we receive comfort. Affinity groups are not hate groups unless hate is the basis for the affinity. I seek to avoid those kinds of groups at all costs. They do not make me comfortable and they are not dedicated to making others comfortable. I prefer groups based upon universal love, however incompletely that love may be expressed.

Justice is part of the equation when it comes to comfort. Comfort is not entirely possible when one does not feel safe in society. That is the message of universal human rights. No one is safe until all are safe. That is also the message of global conservation. No one is safe until the planet is safe. It’s not enough to have our needs for comfort met if and when it comes at the expense of others or the planet itself. We live in interdependent systems, all the way down to the tiniest seed.

So all this talk about comfort as a universal human need goes far beyond what we might, at first, have thought. It is not a solipsistic or selfish pursuit. It is rather the basis for life itself: for us, for others, and for all.

Coaching Inquiries: What gives you comfort? How can you feel even more comfortable without taking advantage of others? How is the need for comfort expressing itself in your affiliations? Do they draw the circle wide or do they pit one interest against another? What other affiliations might meet your need as well as the global need for comfort more fully?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Have to admit amidst our heroic work to get people to see one another as miracles rather than deficits, and in our effort to replace the social worker model with Asset Based Community Development, it is hard to resonate with your need-based approach. We “need” to accept God’s forgiveness, gifts and call • all of which is realization of who we truly are. But I’m trying to be open to your line of reasoning.

I am one of the “impassioned readers” that you spoke of last week, the second one. I really appreciate you responding to my previous comments, but I wanted to clarify one thing: I was not upset about the John 1:1-2 reinterpretation, but rather I was questioning the Genesis 1 stuff. I still don’t think God has needs, so when you talk about Him creating the world because he needed stuff, I would disagree, and I am fine with disagreeing.

I actually think the John 1:1-2 stuff is good. Logos is not really a thing or word or thought, but my favorite definition would be “that thing which comes before a thought,” the thing that causes us to have a thought. In that case, I would say that “Need” is a fine translation, and I think the Gospel writer, John, would agree that Jesus was that “need” even before we knew that we had a need. 🙂 Blessings to you, and thanks for the work you do. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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