Needing space

relax-1276639_1280I see a lot of jabs at the idea that someone should need a safe space. I guess it’s pretty easy to make fun of people who need to be protected from words. Didn’t they ever hear that old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?”  Aw, the little snowflakes need to be protected. Their poor little feelings are hurt.

These sort of jeers and jabs almost always come from white people. I have yet to see it come from a person of color, someone who worships a different religion and I have never heard it from a member of the LGBTQIA community. No, it’s always people who fit into the mold of what society has deemed both normal and optimal who mock the concept of a safe space.

I mean, it’s awfully easy to make fun of someone who needs a safe space when we’ve never had a racial epithet thrown at us. Perhaps, we’ve never been the victim of sexual assault. Maybe, we’ve never felt like there was a target on our back due to what we wear, who we worship, or who we love.  We don’t really know what that feels like. However, we can try to empathize with people who may have a different experience than us. We can try to understand that there may be times when they need a place where they can feel safe, where they can feel normal and where they can feel okay.

Take a minute and listen to the theme song from Cheers. What on earth do you think they’re talking about here?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

RaeAnn Pickett wrote in TIME, “After the birth of my first son, I had postpartum depression. I was a mess emotionally, and I was in desperate need of feeling safe. I had no idea what “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” were, but I had been using them internally for days—avoiding the mommy movies and choosing not to go to the breastfeeding support group where I felt like a failure. Being able to know beforehand what experiences I should avoid and create an environment where I felt safe made it easier for me to share my struggles and move past them.”

There have been times in my life where I have done the same thing, maneuvered myself so that I could avoid something that I found upsetting or troubling until I could find a way to move past it. I have also at times surrounded myself with people who understood me and what I was going through so that I could work through what I was feeling. 

Pickett was able to find the help that she needed for her own postpartum depression in one of these often mocked safe spaces. “When my first postpartum depression support group facilitator said in a hushed, happy voice that this was a safe space, I felt the weight slowly start to lift from my chest. All the pent-up anxiety I had felt was dissipating—just by knowing that the physical place I chose to be in was filled with people who understood me and could help me find the tools to get well.

This isn’t to say that safe spaces can’t go too far in another direction. It shouldn’t be used to stop conversation and discussion. They shouldn’t be used to censor ideas and concepts that we don’t like. Instead, it should create a space where a person can get away from the comments and arguments that are not helpful and can be damaging based on their experiences. Emma Kromm writes in the Harvard Political Review, “A college student who has experienced sexual assault and does not want to hear someone repeat an argument that in any way belittles her experience is not the right target for an indictment of censorship.”

Perhaps, there are times when we should be less concerned about our need to say whatever we want and instead think of other people’s feelings. To be empathetic. To understand that someone else’s experience might be very different from ours and that we all have our own ways of dealing with things that we find difficult. If you think that’s something to mock, then you, my friend, are the reason why we need safe spaces to begin with.

Safe spaces, when used properly can actually create an opportunity for understanding. Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University noted that “students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that comfort. The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.” 

Some of us build up our whole lives to be one giant safe space. We don’t go to places where we might feel uncomfortable. We don’t try to learn anything new or try anything different. We don’t make new friends. Some of us wouldn’t leave our house if it wasn’t for the responsibilities we have. If you think about it that way, then maybe we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites for making fun of everyone else for something we do every day.

Maybe you’re a tough cookie and you never needed a safe space. Maybe you never avoided people because you didn’t want to deal with something. Maybe you never wished you could go somewhere and not have to worry about being bullied or picked on. Maybe you are always out trying new things and meeting new people and you don’t feel any sort of anxiety about it. If that’s the case, I think you should just count yourself lucky and leave the people alone who haven’t been as fortunate as you.

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