As a facilitator, people often comment on “safety” in group settings. Most group work I have done in my career has been safe, relatively speaking. There may have been the possibility of retaliatory actions for speaking up, workplace bullying or general boorish behaviour, but I have hardly ever (!) worked in spaces where real physical safety was an issue.
Still, the issue of safety and fear comes up surprisingly often, and this article at the edge.org gave me a few insights about this problem.
This article looks to ancient human history to understand some of these dynamics and it begins by looking at two kinds of status in humans: dominance and prestige. In dominance hierarchies we are afraid of the higher status person and there is deference and backing away. In prestige hierarchies we are drawn to the higher status person because they have information that can help us survive.