Today among colleges and students, there is an increasing demand for “safe spaces.”
“Safe spaces” are essentially a place where anyone can be themselves without being judged or made to feel uncomfortable for it. It’s often associated with groups of like-minded people getting together and talking, commonly on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, or political identity.
In concept, I’m not against the idea of “safe spaces” at all. It can be very healthy and relieving to be able to express yourself in a judge-free zone. Often “safe spaces” provide the opportunity to feel understood when that understanding is hard to find in other places.
We all need a type of “safe space” every now and then – a space to freely be ourselves and speak our minds without fear of negative judgment – even if it’s just with close friends or family.
This is especially true when it comes to victims of violence, abuse, trauma, or drug use, where “safe spaces” (or support groups) can often be a necessity when recovering from negative events and growing as a person. These are very legitimate uses of “safe spaces.”
However, there seems to be a craze growing on college campuses right now where students expect to be in a “safe space” all of the time. They don’t want to be exposed to different opinions from other students, teachers, or faculty at all. They want to feel safe and comfortable 100% of the time.
We’ve reached a point where “safe spaces” aren’t just protecting weak and vulnerable people, but creating them and perpetuating them.
When you think about it, “safe space” is just another word for “comfort zone.”
If you’ve ever read anything about self improvement, you’ve probably seen advice about getting out of your “comfort zone,” trying new things, taking risks, and putting yourself out there.
To grow as a person is often the result of going outside of your “comfort zone.” When we push our boundaries, and not cling to them, is when we truly find opportunities to learn and improve ourselves.
This is especially true for college students and young adults, who should be exposing themselves to new ideas and learning how to discuss these ideas in a civil and open way, not running away from what they don’t like.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt on “Safe Space” Culture
You might be familiar with some of the criticisms already made against “safe spaces” (and especially “political correctness”), but there isn’t too much academic work yet on the negative consequences of this new “safe space” culture.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt is one of the few professionals speaking out against this growing trend in an academic way, and trying to show how it can sometimes hurt students more than help them.
In this fantastic lecture, Haidt describes 2 different types of imaginary universities called “Coddle University” and “Strengthen University.” He does a great job explaining where each of these different mindsets come from, as well as the benefits and costs of each.
The main lesson of the video is how to build more “antifragile” students.
According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, an “antifragile” system is a system that actually improves and grows stronger when it becomes shocked or disrupted.
Haidt takes this concept and applies it to college students. This means that students require a certain amount of “shocks” to their system – criticisms and attacks – to actually make them stronger and better people at the end of the day.
It goes back to the old Nietzsche quote, “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Perhaps this is a lesson that our culture is slowly forgetting.
For fun, I’ve decided to make a short guide on how to build your own “safe space” and never grow as a person. Check it out below.
How to Build Your Own “Safe Space” and Never Grow As a Person
- Believe you’re perfect and above everything. – You’re 100% perfect and above all wrongdoing or criticism. You don’t have to change yourself for anyone, they should have to change for you. Deep down, you know you’re more “special” than everyone else.
- Don’t interact with people who disagree with you. – Stop exposing yourself to different ideas or perspectives. You already know that you are “right” and they are “wrong.” You have nothing new to learn from anyone else, so why bother interacting with different people?
- Don’t leave your home ever. – Society is messed up. Everyday you risk running into rude and mean people, or being “triggered” by something you don’t like, so it’s better to just stay inside and avoid the real world entirely.
- Suppress any negative thoughts or feelings. – You should “feel good” and be happy all the time. Anyone that denies you that is a tyrant. If you ever have a negative thought or feeling, just push it really far down and never be honest about it to yourself.
- Don’t take any risks. – Keep things safe and never take any risks whatsoever. Keep doing whatever makes you feel comfortable and secure. Never leave your “comfort zone” for anything.
- Depend on everyone to protect you. – You’re never responsible for protecting yourself against the dangers of reality. Instead, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to protect you. We are currently working on a new version of “Bubble Boy” that is completely “reality proof,” it should be out by next year.
Of course, none of this advice is very practical or realistic.
Unfortunately the real world isn’t a “safe space,” and it likely never will be, so part of being a mature adult is learning how to handle the inevitable discomfort and negativity that exists in the world.
By the way, acknowledging that the real world isn’t a “safe space” shouldn’t be seen as an invitation to be cruel toward others or to never try to make the world a better place, but it is something that we have to accept within reason.
The “Safe Space” Song From South Park (NSFW)
If you’ve been following the latest South Park season, it’s been covering these types of ideas. In one recent episode called “Safe Space,” they wrote a brilliantly hilarious song about it.
Check out the video (warning: some crude language).
Great, now this song is going to be stuck in my head all day.
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