Offering a Safe Space

With so many media folks screaming one way or the other about their opinions on “safe spaces” it’s interesting to note that as a society we seem to be losing them. If you listen to the pundits it would be easy to think that the country is now awash with political correct safe spaces where they did not exist before. Many rail against the coddling of young adults who now demand safe spaces, but what seems to be ignored is that safe spaces are disappearing by the day.

When I was younger the world was a harsh place, a lot like it is now. We had 9/11, we had wars, we had crime. It’s curious to note that violent crime rates in the US have been on a decline since my high school years. One of the big differences then was that we could turn the outside world off. Not only that but the outside world was rather muted to begin with. Even the mass media was tame at that point. A show like Matlock was a hit, and that was an old lawyer bumbling around from episode to episode with the worst thing on the screen being a bloodstain. Things were calmer not that long ago. People were calmer not that long ago. Even while 2 wars were waged there was a quiet that no longer seems to exist. Not that long ago going home or being with friends was a place you could feel “safe”.

A number of things have changed over the past 15 or so years so that even places that were safe, or at least safe enough have become toxic. With the rise of new media click bait has become the norm. They used to say, “If it bleeds it leads,” for TV news and I’d argue new media has taken that to, “If you yell it sells”. Content/ news/ media is all about consumption in a way it wasn’t before. The goal is to get people to click, and the reality is vile content is what people click on. Folks don’t care about how Fog Harps can harvest water in arid regions to an extent that allows farms to flourish, they are far more likely to click on an article about how lettuce killed someone. Why write about success stories that no one will consume, when horror stories bring visitors in by the thousands? So when you get your news now you don’t hear about how the violent crime rate in the US has gone down consistently since 1992 and is now half of what it was when I was in high school. You don’t see that infant mortality rates in the US have dropped by a third since 1990. Or that deaths from airplane accidents in the US are a third of what they were in 1995. You hear about the opioid epidemic, the horrors in Syria, and the latest school shooting. These issues would be covered, but what get’s lost is what’s going well.

With how media is now consumed it has become the default to consume the exact same content rehashed a thousand ways. When there’s a school shooting you’re given a hundred pieces of content about the shooting all pretty much saying the same thing. Before the default was to be presented with a more balanced plate of content. When I read the Economist there is an article about Netflix, then one about the presidential election in Mexico, then one about corruption in Brazil, then one on Fog Harps, and so on. It’s not all great news, but it’s a balanced assortment of content. You come out of it happy about some things, mad about somethings, and confused about everything else. Reading magazines, watching the old 6pm news shows, or listening to the radio presents a different experience that is not so heavily weighted to make you feel angry.

Past the new media we have the new social platforms that we are now never supposed to be without. Facebook and Twitter on the PC is one, but now the apps are on most peoples phones so that they are never away from the networks. In this new media world the platforms have become a place for people to evangelize about whatever it is they care about for the moment. It’s not simply that people can share news, but there’s a pressure to share. Whether you’re christian, vegan, labor rights, anti trump, anti Hillary, for antifa or against antifa, you’re supposed to stand your ground. Of course it’s easiest to share content that has already been created, so the new media content that has been designed to elicit emotions is now pumped by millions of people though the social networks. You log in wanting to see a picture of your new niece and you’re confronted with some telling you you should be angry about something.

As one change leads into another new media feeds into social networks which now feed into the real world. People are told that if they believe something that they shouldn’t be for it just when they are at the computer. They should speak their mind wherever they see injustice. This then flows into the work world. Back in the day no one I knew talked about politics at work. Sure as hell no one would have told the boss to fire a customer due to their politics. Now politics is part and parcel for many employees. Diversity and equality are no longer simply dealt with by management and higher ups, but is supposed to be discussed by everyone. The issue is that people carry a lot of underlying crap. Is work the place for half thought out ideas about justice?

Then finally after you turn off the computer, you escape from work, you go to have a beer with a friend more than likely they are hyper focused on some new factoid and will start yabbering away.

It wasn’t always like this… I’m not saying 50 years ago, I’m saying… like… 10…

I was thinking about this when I was up in the Adirondacks with my wife and her friends last week. We spent 5 days up in a lake side camp. I cooked the meals, and they pondered non duality.

They are all followers of a teacher… guru… guy… Rupert Spira who talks a lot about non duality. I’ll screw it up if I try to explain it, but suffice to say he says things that people find interesting enough to get together for a few days to discuss. As a life long buddhist nothing that I’ve heard has made me overly curious. To me it seems like a lot of words…

So going into last week I didn’t figure I’d have much to say to folks. I’m a buddhist who doesn’t really care what anyone else believes, and they are passionate about non duality which to me seems like so many words. What I found truly enlightening about my time cooking for folks and staying out of the conversation was how tranquil it was. These people came together to talk for days about there journeys, and I smiled and offered them warm cookies. It was blissful beyond words.

At one point someone said something to me and I started to ramble for a minute about my beliefs, but by the time I was into the second sentence I already realized that I should stop. My beliefs have nothing to do with what these folks were talking about, and that is perfectly fine. So I wrapped up my thought, and then went back to listening. It felt better that way.

It was very profound for me to be there, putzing away cooking meals, and letting folks work out their world view without my input. These people came to Rupert because they are looking to find peace. What’s so wrong with smiling and offering folks warm cookies while they ponder?

I think this what disturbs me about the arguments about “safe spaces” now. There’s such a backlash against the idea that there are places that should feel safe for folks, and not just that but almost an impulse to make spaces not safe. That you should always be confronted with ideas that push against you. That every idea should be debated. That if you hear something you don’t agree with that you should make your mind known.

I’m all for pushing boundaries, but… It appears to me that at the modern level we’re making folks a bit nuts… …

I think theres a lesson here for modern business and for people’s careers. I’m not telling anyone to support Nazi’s or turn away from suffering, but I’m thinking that maybe the world needs a few more warm cookies, and a lot less opinions. When everyone is screaming perhaps the best way to get people moving forward is to allow them to collect their thoughts and figure out their own minds. If a picture says a thousand words, how much is said with a fresh lasagna and an ear that’s willing to listen?

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