The Insidious Risk of Safety First

When you put a priority on safety and having everything about your life all neat and tidy – with all your ducks in a row – you sometimes squelch truly living.

I drank in the endless blue sky and mountain vistas as I bent to kiss the dozing toddler nestled on my chest. Our girls rode behind, each one confident in their saddle. Our four-year-old chattered non-stop, sharing his horse with Daddy.


And it struck me.

When safety comes first, sometimes living comes second. 

Horseback riding is not a high-risk activity. These horses were trained for trail rides, but we weren’t wearing helmets. We were in Argentina and were not adhering to Canadian safety standards.

Safety First...Or Not

It’s good advice - on a construction site. There, the primary goal is to avoid liability. But to live life well - to make a difference in this world, to raise kids who care - “safety first” is a terrible mantra. Safety matters, sure, but maybe third or fourth place is more appropriate. When my personal safety trumps all else, I miss out on living.

Is It Safe?

This is a common question when we announce we are moving overseas. And, yes crime rates are higher in some places. Safety standards are lower. In South Korea, the baby sometimes sat – gasp! –on my lap in the back of a taxi (while the driver watched Korean soaps on his GPS...but I digress). In Thailand, we rode Tuk-Tuks. 

Yes, we accepted some increased risks in our travels but these risks were small compared with the riches we received. Beauty. Friendship. Adventure. Cultures.

Accidents Can Happen Anywhere

After two years living and traveling in Asia, we moved back to our “safe”, suburban corner of Eastern Canada. 

And you know what knocked us down? My husband was in bed, completely unable to see for three days after bedtime cuddles turned ugly. Our toddler inadvertently scratched and tore his retina! 

Just weeks before, one wet night in early winter, I stepped an unseen patch of black ice and slipped. My elbow cracked on the pavement. The pavement won. Seven weeks in a cast and physiotherapy ensued.


My dear friend had backpacked Thailand and toured India with her young family. Their scariest moment came back home in Canada when their toddler choked on a grape and lost consciousness.


Accidents can happen anywhere. We fool ourselves, and waste energy better invested in living, when we fuss over the minutia of risk management.

What Matters More

Seatbelts and bike helmets are good. Absolutely.


But. What began as conscientiousness has become for many a debilitating cultural obsession with safety. Our homes have rounded corners. Our playgrounds are fall proof. As if a bruise or broken bone would scar our children for life. 


We’d do well to remember EASY does not equal BEST. Our goal here is to raise responsible, functional, compassionate adults. Not 18-year-old tantrum-throwing toddlers. Our kids need to meet and overcome resistance along the way. That’s how they learn and grow.


We rob our kids when we never let them run or jump, fall or fail. Bruises teach limits. Struggles teach that expertise is never achieved without effort. Failures help them narrow in on their true talents and passions. Losing reveals character.


We want our kids to be resilient, to not be knocked down by the first bump in their road. Resilience is learned in choppy waters, not when it’s smooth sailing. We can help them process and learn from disappointments and failures - so long as we allow those experiences.



Remember the story of the Punctual Priest? No one does.


It’s called the story of the Good Samaritan for a reason. He’s the one who risked.

  • He risked his personal safety. Attackers might still have been nearby.
  • He risked an awkward reception. Jews and Samaritans were not friendly. Even the injured man might not welcome his help.
  • He risked the disapproval of others. Would his wife complain he’d spent too much? What would the neighbors think?


As a child, it was easy to dismiss the priest and Levite as uncaring and heartless. They hurried past their injured countryman and didn’t bother to help. 

I now realize they exhibit many qualities we admire today. They were focused. Prompt. Responsible. Cautious. Productive. Not easily deterred from their agenda. Not even a bloodied body deterred them. They had an important job to do and would not be late. 


Was it concern for personal safety that prevented them from stopping to help? Preoccupation with personal reputation? We only know that compassion was not their top priority. They missed a chance to serve and possibly to save a life.

I now see I could easily be like that punctual, uncaring priest. I don’t want that. For me or my kids. Jen Hatmaker nails it. 

“I don’t want my kids safe and comfortable. I want them BRAVE. I don’t want to teach them to see danger under every rock, avoiding anything hard or not guaranteed or risky…
I don’t want to be the reason my kids choose safety over courage… May my fear not bind their purpose here. Scared moms raise scared kids. Brave moms raise brave kids. Real disciples raise real disciples [followers of Jesus].”

Jen Hatmaker

In case you aren’t feeling brave, Sarah TheBarge differentiates in her book, Well: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa:


“Being brave is when you don’t feel afraid so you take risks or do dangerous things. Being courageous is when you feel all the fear but you choose to do it anyway because there is something more important at stake.”

Sarah Thebarge

I need to be willing to embrace some risk if I want my kids to be courageous. I need to put the needs of others ahead of my own comfort if I want my kids to learn compassion.

What Now? 

It takes courage, but we can knock safety off its high horse. We can stop obsessing over minor risks when we look beyond ourselves and see people who matter more. Be courageous. Explore. Reach out to someone new. Let compassion come first. Help someone, especially when it feels uncomfortable.


You may find life gets a little more interesting.

Colleen Higgs and her husband have lived on three continents and visited a dozen countries, with their young kids. From travel tips to perspectives on parenting and culture, she writes to help make your travel, parenting, and relocation a little less overwhelming. Read more at 

Image credit: Jase Ess on Unsplash

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1 Comment

Carol Tomalty
Posted on  11/10/2018 20:47 Well said! Thanks for writing this Colleen!

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