Taking personal safety and freedom for granted

Seeing a CEO of a Fortune 100 company being protected by bodyguards prodded me to reflect on safety and freedom. We shouldn’t take either for granted.

Taking personal safety and freedom for granted by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago I was visiting customers and prospects in Moscow with our distributor. The visits had all gone as expected. One morning we were at a university and our host told me that in a few minutes Craig Barrett, the CEO of Intel Corporation, would be speaking in a room a short distance away. He suggested perhaps I would like to attend. Of course I was interested in attending, so we went to the room right away.

A treasured relationship

Intel had made an investment in SMART in 1992, something that had helped us stave off certain bankruptcy. Through the years we had maintained a very special relationship, one that Dave and I truly treasured. We had met Craig on a number of occasions, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear him address a Russian audience. His speech didn’t disappoint – he powerfully made the case for more and better STEM (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math) education globally. I was sure that he recognized me and smiled and nodded to me during his speech, so when he finished I went to the front of the room to speak with him.

Firm protection

No way. I was rebuffed firmly and completely by the multiple bodyguards that he had around him. These bodyguards were very rough looking – tall and muscular and wearing short, leather jackets. Of course, they looked very stern and while they may have spoken English, they gave no sign of this as I attempted to engage them. They moved Craig quickly out of the room, surrounding him so completely that he was almost not visible.

I was surprised, but upon reflection I shouldn’t have been. Craig Barrett was the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, high profile and wealthy. It was only prudent to protect him as diligently as possible at all times, even in a room filled with mild-looking academics. I added this experience to the careful warnings and security at my hotel, plus the armed driver that the distributor had, and a very disconcerting picture welled up in my consciousness. It was clear that things are different in Moscow, and that it takes effort to ensure one’s safety at all times.

Human needs and motivation

In the mid-20th century Maslow put forward a theory about human needs and motivation that has become known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, labeling the needs in ascending order as physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, self-actualization. While some may argue with the theory, it has some base level use in appreciating the pattern through which human motivations move. Once a person’s physical needs for sustaining life are met, the next need to be met is that of safety – it’s pretty basic and fundamental for people.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Trying to survive

I don’t have to directly experience situations where my personal safety is in question to appreciate the trauma for people who live in unsafe circumstances. Seeing demonstrations and uprisings on television tells me a lot about the troubling emotional toll for people. Throw in situations such as prolonged civil war, dictatorship, corruption, general lawlessness, severe poverty or income disparity and it’s easy to understand that many people are living in situations where their prime motivation is simply to survive.

Safety and freedom cherished

In many places around the world, people live very freely, moving around as they wish without really thinking carefully about their and their family’s safety. In many other places, personal safety is top of mind and the first and last thing to be considered. For those of us fortunate to live in safer environs, we truly need to appreciate what we have in our everyday safety and freedom.

Take personal safety and freedom for granted? Not ever. I know how lucky I am to live freely and safely, and I overtly cherish the feeling.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.