How to Make a Safe Space, Conservative Edition

The following is from Francisco D’Anconia

If I begin with the part usually saved for my mid-article digression, is it still a digression? Let’s see.

The Wokerati have a designated term for a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.  They call it a “safe space.”  Safe spaces are, to them, necessary to create and protect because to live without them would be unfair and oppressive to those who might face ridicule, persecution, harassment, or criticism.  Without a designated “safe space,” the world is just too tumultuous a place for these souls to exist.  The creation of so-called “safe spaces” is, contrary to woke sanctimony, actually the creation of mental, emotional, and spiritual prisons.  It is a means of oppression and a tool of fanatics, encouraging victimhood and perpetuating weakness in mind, character, and morality.

Safe spaces so impugned, you might suspect I take objection to all “safe spaces” and that I think everyone ought to harass and bully anyone they choose.  I don’t.  What I object to, what I have always objected to in language and in the practice of human morality, is the co-opting of language to take an otherwise worthwhile or meritorious idea and turn it into a warped and misrepresented cudgel with which to beat one’s social or political enemies.  Should there be a place that a person can feel safe letting their guard down?  Falling apart under the stress and strain of life and not worrying about being judged or criticized while he puts himself back together?  Should there be a space in which a person can reflect, bare his innermost thoughts and demons, talk about the difficult and personal things he can’t share openly with others? Why sure there should be such a place.  Should people be subjected to acts of violence and harassment because they choose to live unconventionally or make strange choices or hold bizarre beliefs?  No, of course they should not be.  Then why make any distinction between the safety of, say, one’s home and a public “safe space” on a college campus?  If you’ve been following this Journal, you already know why.  If you haven’t read the previous entries here, let me clarify.  It is a tactic of manipulation to equate different things by purposefully using the same words to describe them.  For example, the sort of “safe space” that is a person’s home or the living room of a good friend or a therapist’s couch or a pastor’s office is simply not the same in practice or in its intention as a designated area where people who hate Conservatives can go to loudly hate Conservatives among like-minded anti-Conservatives.  Don’t get me wrong, people are absolutely free to hate Conservatives if they want to, but pretending that they’re establishing a safe space to “protect themselves” from harassment because of their views is just theater.  The idea that the words of Steven Crowder or Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson or Peter Boghossian are such a threat to the mental and emotional well-being of living, functional adults, but that these living functional adults should be allowed to gather and malign Crowder and Shapiro without so much as a dissenting voice is lunacy.  That’s just not the same thing – especially if you decide to make it public.

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Believe it or not, this entry isn’t about the woke and their abuse of language and concepts or their attempts to filter the meanings of words the way they filter their profile photos – until they bear no resemblance at all to the genuine article anymore but serve just fine to make people think they’re dealing with something they aren’t.  It’s about real safe spaces.  The kind that are good for us and that we want and need in our lives.  I felt I needed to call out the mass idiocy of the Woke in order to draw the distinction between the “safe space” used to censor opposing thought and insulate people from the flaws in their own thinking and the “safe space” that serves to help people in their growth and self-improvement.  

It’s inspired by a conversation with my teenaged son after a tough incident at school.  Like many kids, and far too many adults for that matter, he occasionally makes a bad decision about what seems like it will be fun.  He inevitably has to face the music for that bad decision, and deal with the parental lectures that follow.  In this particular instance, he was able to articulate that he was feeling frustrated and anxious at not being able to talk about his feelings.  Paraphrasing him for the sake of clarity, he said he just had a really tough week and didn’t know any healthy or constructive ways to “let it all out.”  Instead of talking with a friend or his parents, he made a dumb decision and got in trouble.  “Why didn’t you vent to a friend, or to your girlfriend, or to one of us?”  We asked.  Now, this was a truly minor thing.  He took ownership and remedied the situation he’d caused immediately, both correcting the problem and apologizing for being a jerk in the moment.  He was not “in trouble.”  He was not being grounded or having privileges taken away.  No voices were raised.  In fact, we openly applauded his show of character in not lying or trying to avoid his consequences, but rather owning up to what he’d done and immediately making it right.  It was truly a situation in which concerned parents wanted to give him a safe place to open up.  His early answer to the question of “Why didn’t you talk to someone about it” was simple, predictable teenager-ese.  “I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone.  I felt like people might get mad at me.”  He was afraid of the reactions of others.  He felt the reactions and feelings of others were a threat to his own peace of mind.  So uncomfortable was he at the prospect of a difficult conversation that he was willing to do some dumb thing at school, get dragged into the principal’s office, suffer the indignity of cleaning up his own mess, and then dealing with the parental lectures in the aftermath.  If “people getting mad” was the thing he was trying to avoid, swing and a miss.  I asked him if he felt like he was still in trouble.  No.  Did he feel like his mother and I were angry?  No, he said.  Do you feel safe talking to us?  Yes.  Have we ever given you a reason to believe we would fly off the handle or yell at you?  No.  I paused, then explained: What you just described – a place where you feel safe talking to people who won’t get mad at you or fly off the handle is a safe place.  People who will listen to you and hear what you have to say are people you can feel safe talking to.  His problem had less to do with having a safe space to talk about his feelings and more to do with not understanding that it’s ultimately up to him to make use of it.  I pressed him: What made you worry about talking to us about your feelings?  “I thought you’d get mad at me or not understand.”  Do you understand?  “My feelings?  Not really.”  Then how can you plan for ours?  “I don’t guess I can.”  Do you want us to listen to you and hear you and let you express your feelings? “Yeah, of course.”  Well then why try to limit what our feelings might be?  Silence.  Dots connecting.  What I mean is, do you just want someone to listen to you and validate you and tell you you’re right, or do you want to be able to talk to people you can trust to tell you the truth about the things that are hard for you?  “I want the truth.”  Do you want to talk to people who will help you find some clarity and understand things, or do you just want someone to nod and tell you it’s all ok?  “No, I want help with the things I don’t know how to do.”  And if you have people in your life who will listen to you, who love and care about you, who will do their level best always to help you and teach you and give you the tools to stand on your own two feet, how safe would you feel?  “I know, Dad.  I know that’s you guys.”  One last question, then: Why would it matter if we had our own feelings?  “Huh?”  I mean why would you want to control what we feel?  “I don’t.”  Sure you do.  You want to be able to feel whatever you feel, no matter how intense or chaotic or destructive, but you only want to come share that if the people you share it with don’t have any feelings of their own about it.  What if you just trust that we love you and we want the best for you and that this is a safe place for you no matter how we feel?  “But what if you get mad at me?”  What if you’re mad at us?  “Well then I’d want to be able to talk to you about it without… oh.”  Yeah, oh.  Welcome to a real grown-up relationship. 

My son began to realize that communication means being able to have your own thoughts and feelings and beliefs without being threatened by the thoughts and feelings and beliefs of others.  He began to realize that the safety of a space has to do with how honestly you are able to live in it, with or without the opinions of others.  He began to understand that his “safety” in any space was much more a function of his ability to deal with and in truth (about himself, about his actions, about others) than it ever would be a function of other people’s efforts to sanitize the place of any conflict.  He got a glimpse of the notion that stress and offense and discomfort are not antonyms of “safety.”  In fact, between honest people, disagreements and stress and conflict can and often are agents of growth.  They strengthen both parties, bolstering their safety in the world rather than eroding it, enhancing safety, not threatening it.

It is a true accomplishment in life to find the insight, self-knowledge, and the fortitude of character to choose to surround yourself with people you can trust.  Far commoner is to surround yourself with people who make you feel good “just the way you are.”  Finding a circle of people you can trust, and whose trust you’ve earned in return, will indeed make you safer.  It will strengthen you in ways nothing else ever could.  It will enable and reward your genuineness and authenticity without the threat of excommunication if you upset someone or part with their groupthink.  But no matter how safe your space may be, it still falls to you to develop the courage to walk into it and be your true self.  Developing that personal courage and character is equal in importance to having the safe space to begin with.  In fact, it may be even more important, because with the courage to face the anxiety of conflicting feelings and opinions, you may well find that quite a few more spaces feel safer than they once did. No longer will you feel a need to modify the whole world to tiptoe around your insecurities, no longer will you need for everyone else in the world to show you compassion and read your mind while you flagrantly disregard their feelings about your behaviors. Instead of feeling frustrated by the rest of the world refusing to account for your traumas and dysfunctions, you’ll be in control of yourself and you’ll develop the self-awareness to manage your own stresses and grow from them.

Wouldn’t that just be a thing…

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