Mastodon East Canyon 22X Neighborhood Council: Courage With a Smile

Courage With a Smile

It's the courageous who guide us out of troubled times. I met a bunch of courageous, smiling Oaklanders on Friday evening in the San Antonio neighborhood for the Ceasefire walk. The positive energy I experienced will keep me going back for more!

A week or so ago, over afternoon coffee with a friend, we pondered the fear so many Oaklanders are experiencing. I said something like, "I don't know why, but I'm just not a fearful person. I guess it's just my personality." And he said, "Maybe it's because you understand probability."

I think it's both. 

Oakland has a lot of violent crime relative to nearby suburban communities; It’s true there’s a greater chance that harm will find us than if we lived in a community with lower crime rates. And that affects us psychologically. We conflate "a greater chance" with "likely." In fact it’s highly unlikely, if we follow best safety practices, that serious harm will find us when we are out and about in Oakland.

Personally, I don't like to go out by myself at night, but other than that, I go out without fear. I always think about what I need to have with me before I head out and the best way to carry the things I need. I don't keep a wallet in a purse hanging from my shoulder. I often don't take my wallet at all. When I drive and park, I never leave anything remotely valuable or even anything that might be mistaken for being remotely valuable in my car. Not even a phone cable! I don't wear expensive jewelry, in fact I don't own expensive jewelry. And when I'm walking, I'm walking with confidence. My head is up and I'm looking about, acknowledging every person I see with a friendly nod at minimum. I enjoy it! And psychology is on my side. 

Acknowledging people makes a human connection and creates a sense of mutual value. A fearful person  who is looking down, with eyes averted,  fails to make a human connection and create a sense of mutual value. This puts fearful people at greater risk.

Troubled souls who are susceptible to anti-social behavior are drawn to act out in situations in which that sense of mutual value is absent. They may quickly assume that this stranger doesn't value them. That hurts! They may be inclined to retaliate. Even though the stranger didn't do anything but not look at them. 

Even if you feel fearful today, if you start heading out into the daylight and greeting neighbors, you’ll feel safer day by day. Exercising our courage muscles decreases any fear.

Also true: The current level of crime in Oakland is unacceptable. We have to make Oakland safer. As safe as we possibly can! 

Every loss of life is tragic for the loved ones and the community. And it's natural to think, "That could have been me!" Or "That could have been my son!" Or daughter! And believe me, I have done a lot of worrying for the safety of my daughters! I feel like, if they’re not with me, how do I know they are safe? But we raised our daughters to be courageous and independent, and they are living their lives to the fullest. Our older one is working remotely from Mexico City these days, taking salsa lessons with her significant other and traveling mate. She is having the time of her life!

So back to probability. Yes, bad things can happen. Terrible things can happen. And sadly, I know this personally. Times two. But chances are, if we follow best practices for safety, we will stay safe. Are there horrific exceptions? Yes. And these horrific exceptions happen in Oakland. All too frequently. But still, chances are, they won't happen to us. Really. Chances are they won't. 

When we get outside our homes and interact with our neighbors, we are making Oakland safer. How? The emptier the streets, the more isolated each person is. And the more inviting the streets become to those prone toward acting out against society. When we walk in our neighborhoods and meet the eyes of every living being with welcoming kindness, we stand a good chance of improving the lives of each one. We break down the isolation. We help people to feel seen and valued. We may make that tiny difference in someone's day that guides them toward healthier choices. With one warm smile, we can boost the life of a stranger. The more of us who approach life in Oakland this way, the more vibrancy and safety we create for each other.

Back to the Ceasefire walk in the San Antonio neighborhood, the mutual feeling of community was hugely uplifting. Families brought children, even a baby, along. Everyone had ready smiles. 

Cars honked on International Blvd as they passed us, and we waved cheerfully. We passed sex workers, who must have been freezing cold out there, and one young woman in particular gave me the cutest smile, like I might get from any young neighbor woman standing in line at the local coffee shop. That smile did a little rewiring of my brain. Such happy twists are a big part of why we need to get out there and greet people!