Once there was considerable uncertainty about the precise location of “Harm’s Way.” This was despite the fact that the phrase “in harm’s way” was on the lips of nearly everyone, from international leaders all the way down to the person looking both ways before jaywalking. Yet anybody seeking to inquire where exactly “Harm’s Way” might be found typically received a flurry of contradictory responses. “It’s in that direction.” “No, this direction.” “Are you both blind, it’s clearly right over there.” “You’re all wrong. Can’t you see two inches in front of your faces?” Conflicts of opinion on this order often started small but quickly drew large crowds, with heated divisions spreading everywhere as neighbor turned from neighbor and even family member from family member in spluttering frustration. To say nothing of the age-old differences of opinion between generations, communities, nations, and ultimately entire cultures that grew increasingly pronounced as the whereabouts of “Harm’s Way” became ever more obscure. Like historical disputes over the legitimacy of terra incognita and Here Be Monsters scrawled on fading maps, these larger wrangles could prove diplomatically awkward and long-lasting. Were it not for the eruption of a new disagreement that refocused everyone’s attention on yet another claim to have discovered the true location of “Harm’s Way.” Even with such pressure-releasing shifts, a universal concern steadily grew that if some form of consensus was not worked out, and soon, virtually every spot on Earth might become “Harm’s Way” by default. So an international commission was hurriedly formed, complete with famous dignitaries and enormous staffs, to negotiate a document of understanding on “Harm’s Way” acceptable to all. The opening ceremonies for such a momentous endeavor went well enough, for there were all the customary formalities and protocols to observe. These succeeded in keeping differences in check under the established strictures of decorum. However, once actual deliberations got underway, it became apparent that none of the participants were willing to pinpoint “Harm’s Way” in any definite manner that might reflect badly upon their own portion of the globe. Almost daily, entire delegations got up and walked out of the negotiations in protest against other nations’ views, only to return hastily when it became evident their objection had fallen on deaf ears and some crucial decision might be made in their absence that would designate their own homeland as “Harm’s Way in Perpetuity.” Now was not the time to stand on principle or to be timorous in the face of such a dire threat. It might have been argued that a universal agreement to declare a moratorium on overuse of the expression “in harm’s way” as shorthand for whatever felt alien to one’s own view of the world might have lowered distrust and eventually led at least to an uneasy truce based on mutual civility, good will, and some attempt to understand the situations of others. But efforts in this direction led nowhere. Too much was demanded in order to do what would have been necessary, it appeared, at whatever level from highest diplomacy to a squabble in the street. While, by contrast, the familiar shorthand was so very convenient. And again, at all the same levels from highest diplomacy to squabbles in the street. Till not a patch of ground anywhere hadn’t been labeled “Harm’s Way” once or twice at a minimum, and some many times more than that. Ultimately a person didn’t have to point in any particular direction whatsoever when making the claim since all directions were assumed to be implied, and a simple whirling of the arms would suffice. Between the default cliché and the mechanical gestures, few of those raising the constant alarms paused to consider that “Harm’s Way” might not lie someplace out there beyond their comfort zone but rather deep within the darkest regions of their own minds.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans