Who Has Your Back? Personal Safety Nets for Life’s Falls

Posted October 8, 2009 in Blog

Eileen had to escape from an abusive relationship, but felt overwhelmed and afraid.  She consented to her friend Donna pulling together a “personal safety net” team, starting with a practical Excel spreadsheet of names and contact information of friends who would help her with the transition.

“I was in tears as we met to compile a list of who could commit to doing what and when,” said Eileen.  “These folks provided dinner to my front porch, care for my two young sons, help around the house and yard, listening ears, and more. Donna sent email to everyone about what was going on in my world legally and emotionally. I think they did a lot of collective prayer as well, and I know that worked. I never felt alone as my world went upside down.”

This is just one of dozens of stories from the emerging network of “personal safety nets.” In explaining the concept, co-founder Judy Pigott asks four questions:  “Who has got your back?  Are they ready?  Have you told them you are counting on them? Do they know how to reach each other?”

How prepared are we in the event of a sudden death, health crisis, divorce or job loss? For people living apart from extended family –or in our sometimes fragmented communities — we may not have people immediately around us. “We need to created extended families with people we don’t always have a biological connection to,” says Pigott. “Each family does what it can, and each family can do different things.”

For those who can’t quickly answer the “who’s got your back” question, by listing at least three informed people, it may make sense to explore creating a personal safety net.  A personal safety net includes “the resources we weave together to create a more caring, connected, and community-minded circle for ourselves, our friends, family, and workplace.”
A Resilience Circle might be the place to meet people who also want to create a more intentional “personal safety net” among members.  Pigott advises people to form teams during “good times,” and make sure we’ve got one another’s contact information, medical information and family phone numbers.  “We need to know one another’s desires and intentions.”

For Pigott, who co-authored with John Gibson the book Personal Safety Nets: Getting Ready for Life’s Inevitable Changes and Challenges, her own life experience shaped her view about the benefits of such a net.  At the age of twelve, her father died leaving her mother to run a family business and raise several small children outside Bellingham, WA.  “My mother was working 16 hours a day and juggling parenting.  She reached out to everyone for help, including the local sheriff.  He connected us with a 16-year old girl who had been banished from her family home for shoplifting.  This young woman needed a home, some part-time work, and the stability to finish high school.  We became part of each others’ safety net.”

“We live in a culture that preys upon people’s fear and isolation,” observed Pigott.  “We find it hard to ask for help.  And we’re not always good at accepting help or realizing the reciprocity does not have to be in the moment.  Every one of us has something that we must offer the world.  They lend us their car –and we will take their mom (or someone else’s) shopping another day.”

“There are some practical skills we all need to be effective in supporting one another,” said Pigott, based on years of encouraging safety net teams.  “We need to know how to build a team, communicate, deal with feelings such as of resentment.  We need to know how to think critically, not take things personally, to disband and end things.  All things that begin do end.”  One recent feature on the web site was an article, “Five Tips to Using Kindness and Avoiding Resentment.”

The web site and resources offered by the Personal Safety Net organization includes stories, examples, books, workbooks and other resources for people interested in strengthening the circle around them.