Safety pins, invented in 1849 by mechanic Walter Hunt, are so common we hardly think about them unless a piece of clothing needs temporary support. Some of their uses have fallen out of favor, such as holding together diapers on babies or attaching sanitary napkins to old-fashioned belts. British punks made them a fashion statement. One performer claims safety pins were used to remedy “the arse of your pants falling out”, but they quickly moved into body decorations where they pierced ears, noses, and who-knows-what else. Other uses have swelled in popularity, namely attaching four to a participant’s shirt to an athletic event number.
A recent use is as a political statement. Wikipedia puts forth a claim that the Dutch wore secret safety pins to symbolize unity during WW II, although this hasn’t been validated. After the 2016 UK Brexit vote, safety pins were used by people to show solidarity with refugees and other migrants.
Now this innocuous item is a response to the US presidential election. By fastening a safety pin to their clothing, people hope they’re allying themselves with groups threatened and bad-mouthed by politicians. I hastened to pin mine on recently. But after a few days wearing it, I’ve removed it.
Why? Now it’s become yet another instance of how people use any circumstance to criticize and bad mouth one another. Or a topic that bloggers, constantly under self-generated pressure to produce writing (like me), can plumb. One blogger described the movement as “mainly self-serving and useless,” for people who agree politically to identify each other. Other people have taken to the net to launch attacks against wearers because the pins are a sop to white consciences.
I give up. Whatever the election accomplished, the brouhaha over safety pins has crowned. No more efforts by me to support what I in my naiveté have always done—support lost causes. I’ll take all my safety pins and simply use them to jab things.
By the way, I’ve seen no one else in my area wearing a safety pin.
In my rabid youth, I judged my friends by their politics and philosophies. I figured if someone wasn’t at least a left-leaning semi-socialist, they neither cared about the good of society nor read literary novels nor hugged trees. I didn’t want to be around them. I’m sure I had acquaintances who didn’t fit, but I carefully side-stepped discussions in which certain issues might come up.
Fast forward post-marriage and babies, and my outlook changed. Radically. Perhaps it was the consistent disruption of my nights by noisy if anti-war neighbors or the littered mess similar folks left in the wake of their parades and demonstrations. Perhaps it was the lackadaisical attitude of clerks in natural foods stores and cafes, who placed more importance on chatting with their friends than providing service.
I’ve come to believe that walking the walk absolutely over-rides talking the talk. Courtesy is critical, the kind of courtesy rooted in respect, not necessarily in etiquette books. Does an individual cut me off in traffic? His numerous bumper stickers supporting the candidate of my choice don’t prevent my knowing he’s a rude ass. The advocate for the homeless who dumps construction materials from his remodeling all over the alley gets zero points from me for his philanthropy.
This is especially true for people who make hard and fast stands on ethical issues. Puh-leeze. You’re not going to convince me by screaming. Just because you think the system of tipping service staff is patronizing and outmoded, you can’t force me into neglecting a gratuity. So what if you love dogs and want them prancing leash-free around the park? I’m scared of them, and I’ll continue to scold dog owners who don’t restrain their pets. And if I want to snitch a few fronds of dried greenery at the end of the summer from a neighbor for an arrangement, don’t excoriate* me as a thief.
To my surprise, I’m finding some of the nicest, most thoughtful people I know are ones whose choices on the ballot wouldn’t come close to replicating mine. Yes, people should express their opinions. Yes, they should live their lives and conduct their personal affairs as they wish. But as we struggle to walk, run, jog or crawl the rocky road through life, we’d be wise to value the oil that keeps our society functioning smoothly. The most important thing to bring along on the trip is human consideration and compassion, not opinions.
While politics can make strange bedfellows, civility brings even stranger fellows into bed. But to my way of thinking, at least the sheets are clean and the blankets tucked in properly.
* Excoriate: to criticize harshly, condemn