I hear a lot about “safe spaces” lately. Places where people can go and not get their feelings hurt. When I was growing up, and in fact, up until the past 8 years or so, I never heard about so many people walking around feeling hurt, wounded, offended. Now, I am certain that there were plenty of folks who felt all of those things. I have frequently felt hurt, wounded or offended. But I’ve never thought it was appropriate to express those things publicly. In fact, I was raised to keep my personal feelings to myself. Of course, if you know me, you know that’s been a lifelong struggle for me!
Anyway, I have a theory about this sudden need for “safe spaces”. I believe it is because we have, for all intents and purposes, done away with the concept of etiquette. This was a very important tool when I was growing up, and now it seems that people scoff at the idea. But let’s look at this for a moment.
Etiquette gives everyone their “safe space”. With etiquette, there are things that one simply does not say out loud. There are ways in which one simply does or does not behave. The purpose is not to stifle anyone’s creativity or freedom of speech, but to protect someone from being hurt, wounded or offended. Or from feeling or causing embarrassment.
Within the confines of etiquette, one is required to be polite and pleasant to everyone else, regardless of how they may actually feel or what they may think. While I know that many people believe this is a form of dishonesty or deception, it isn’t. It’s merely keeping thoughts and words to oneself when they might hurt someone else. It’s actually a form of caring.
It seems to me that today everyone feels they have a right to tell anyone and everyone what they think or feel, no matter who it might harm. And usually, a lot of folks are harmed. Personally, I think it started with websites providing comment boxes. People could hide behind their computer screens and say the most horrid things to other people who they’ve never met and likely never will meet. There are rarely any consequences for this sort of thing. I’ve often said that the downfall of our civilization will be the “com box”. And that’s why: because so many people feel that they have every right to insult and bully anyone and everyone.
I myself was recently “bullied” online. They disagreed with an article I posted on Facebook. Instead of reading it and moving on, they felt compelled to start leaving comments about it, and attacked my religious beliefs. I felt very hurt, wounded and offended, and tried to ignore it. But after several more unnecessary and unkind comments, I actually got angry (which is rare for me, these days) and decided to stand up for myself. I stated that I didn’t appreciate anyone attacking me or my religious beliefs, and that there was no reason to do so. I added that nobody is obligated to agree with me (in fact, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me) and that they could just either read the post and move on, or not read it at all. That’s when I was informed that perhaps I should find a specifically Catholic social media outlet, that would be better suited to my “sensibilities”! 😳 Seriously? That’s the height of intolerance, of bullying! And the crazy thing is that this came from one of the most sensitive, caring individuals I know! We disagree on a great many issues, but this person didn’t even recognize when they, themselves, were doing the exact thing they hate to someone else!
Let’s look at what was said. How would they have felt if someone said that to a gay person? Or a Muslim? A Jew? Or a “person of color”? Or just to a woman? What would that sound like?
“Perhaps a a GLBTQ Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”
“Perhaps a a Muslim Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”
“Perhaps a Jewish Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”
“Perhaps a a Black Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”
“Perhaps a a Female Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”
Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Because it is. And etiquette would have saved the day. Nothing at all needed to be said in response to my post, which was, by-the-way, about assisted suicide, and the fact that I’m against it. Apparently, in the current social media court of law, that makes me a right-wing religious nut job.
So, my point here is that, instead of safe spaces, why don’t we teach people how to behave properly in social situations? Let’s bring back common courtesy! I mean, in your own home, feel free to rant and rave all you want about whatever you want. (I certainly do, from time to time!) That truly is your right, and I have no problem with that. But in public, and yes, social media is very, very public, instead of feeling compelled to comment or criticize anything you disagree with or don’t like, how about saying nothing? Or finding something kind to say? How about actually treating every person you encounter, whether in real life or on the internet, with respect and dignity? That is what etiquette is all about, and it would eliminate the need for safe spaces.