On Safe Spaces

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As humans, we’ve had to survive calamities – droughts, blizzards, famines and hungry predators – some of which happened concurrently. If I could go back in time, I would give early homo sapiens (meaning wise man in latin) a huge round of applause. We defeated the enemies outside and within through developing larger brains and improving our social coordination within our circles. The advent of our social ability is thought to have started when groups of primates started hunting together during the day versus acting as nocturnal creatures – we belonged in these ephermal groups in contrast to pairs.

As highlighted from Schulz, the author, of the Science Now paper:

“It’s easier to sneak around at night when you’re alone, she notes, but when you start hunting during the day, when predators can more easily spot you, there’s safety in numbers.”

As a definite optimist, I’m of the opinion that the world is objectively the best now than it has ever been before. More than two billion people have been brought out of poverty and child mortality rates are at record lows among many others. Productivity rates are also the highest they’ve ever been, so humans are doing less repetitive tasks than aiming for subsistence.

The antithesis would be that the world hasn’t gotten much better for people relative to centuries ago. Depression rates are quite high in the western world and rates of suicide among adolescents have exploded in countries like South Korea. Do objective standards matter when many people are wondering who we are or why we exit on this pale blue dot?

To stop this feeling, we’ve let people feel that it’s alright, downright encouraged actually, to exist within the bountiful cornucopia of their own wishes. For many they eventually venture past the walls of their palace in a Buddha-manner and they view the world for what it really is: uncaring and harsh. This seems to shock people to the point where they’re metaphorically begging to return to the confines of similar thoughts and their culture.

Rather than having people delve more deeply into these matters, we’ve decided to shelter them by allowing these emotional safe spaces; we then wonder why our emotional issues are only aggrandizing across the West. I would say that a lot of this behavior stems from a child’s home life: their parents coddle their child from the perils of the outside world, leading to the exact consequence they seek to avoid. If the mother can help little Billy from seeing the true colors of the world for as long as possible, then he’ll definitely end up as a well-adjusted figure who is a volunteer coach for his kids soccer games on the weekends and diligently pays his taxes come tax season.


But where did the notion of safe spaces originate from? Moira Kenney, an activist within the LGBT field, harked the term back to the the gay culture that was birthed in the 1960s – people could release their sexuality without becoming ostracized by their respective friend or work circles.

As Malcolm Harris would say:

According to Kenney, the term “safe space” first gets used consistently in the 60s and 70s women’s movement, where safety began to mean distance from men and patriarchal thought and was used to describe “consciousness raising” groups.

If safe spaces were indeed the way forward, history wouldn’t be littered with examples of progress happening solely because some individuals were brave enough to avoid the madness of crowds. It’s astounding that the Civil Rights Movement only came to fruition nearly 60 years ago – at that time, it was considered so contrarian as to be preposterous. Blacks and whites using the same water fountain, really? Another example of this would be the invention of artificial cooling, using ice for lowering body temperatures and for consumption in food.

Frederic Tudor, the man who removed the location premium with ice, believed that there was a demand for artificial cold. So, naturally he did what any of us would – he bought a ship and started transporting ice from the Northern parts of America to the West Indies.

When asked why he wanted to transport ice, Tudor said:

“In a country where at some seasons of the year the heat is almost unsupportable,” he wrote in a subsequent entry, “where at times the common necessary of life, water, cannot be had but in a tepid state—Ice must be considered as out doing most other luxuries.”

Innovation happens within networks that necessarily force interaction and change – how else do we know what’s out there? Perhaps the sign of safe spaces rising is a harbinger for a world that is in a safety bubble where we cannot trust our neighbors and we value security above all else. Then safe spaces result in situations that expose these differences even more: it’s only through contact that we can start to connect with others and the whole range of their emotions.

Listening to the media about domestic policy and other countries only sews the seeds of distrust. This is why nobody “understands” how Trump or Brexit occurred – they were locked in their cozy safe spaces. That would be in align with current macroeconomic conditions in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland et al.

When you interview people about to die, they often say that they wished they had lived a life in the manner they chose versus the one society guilted them into having. Metaphorically, you want to die on your own sword. I think safe spaces are a huge part of that. It’s safe to go to university, have a job, a family, and then die. It’s the inertia of life – a life we perhaps didn’t want. But if you have ever aspired for anything more, it helps to know that the road less taken is not and will never be safe.

Overall, I think it is worth the effort of leaving our comfort zones in a world that advises the opposite. Just another reason to not listen to advice. It is easier said than done, but even taking a different route to work or exploring a different part of the city in your free time should expand your mental models.

Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone), from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, says it succinctly:

“There will be days where you feel all alone, and that’s when hope is needed most. No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope. […]  And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?”

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: To be somebody or to do something – Anirudh Pai

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