One of the issues I find when people talk about safe spaces is that people have different definitions. What feels safe for one might feel unsafe for others.
Making a safe space is incredibly difficult, perhaps not entirely possible. The safest spaces I’ve found have had one thing in common: Leaders are open to listening and changing to make the group better.
Still, finding the definition of a “safe space” continues to be a challenge. If I were to offer my own quick definition, it would be where people can freely express their thoughts/feelings/beliefs, particularly when those might not be popular. Certain controls still need to be in place. Harassment, berating, and even general rudeness can make such a setting unsafe for the expression of different ideas. Ultimately, I think it often comes down to this question: For whom is this a “safe space”?
Triggers are often brought up when discussing safe spaces. Offering trigger warnings is something I favor and do my best to practice. I have no desire to shock people and/or cause them adverse reactions. On the other hand, my triggers are so many and varied that no one could possibly warn me before every trigger. In the past few months, I’ve been triggered by things like noticing the date on the calendar and encountering a particular breed of dog. Furthermore, this again goes back to “safe for whom”? If I’m not allowed to talk about any of the traumas I’ve experienced, others might feel safe, but I certainly don’t.
I’ve been a part of several groups that call themselves “safe spaces”, but I often find they don’t fit my definition. Many of the people in these groups are of liberal political leanings. In virtually every case, I’ve found people in the group who are not but don’t feel safe saying so. Perhaps if we made people safer to express themselves openly, we could have more civil discourse. But that’s a different discussion, perhaps for another time.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if a truly safe space is possible, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. If we ever hope to achieve the society we want, we must keep trying. I believe that will start with us listening to each other even (and especially) when we don’t like the ideas being expressed.
This post began with a discussion among some of us in the group #LinkYourLife Connection. Here are some of their posts: