Where are the Safe Spaces?

We are surrounded by noise, conversations, opinions, places where voicing and sharing our thoughts, feelings and opinions feel unsafe. Large group conversations are getting more overwhelming, more polarizing, and even volatile to a point forcing us to make tough choices….where is my safe space?

I have been thinking about safe spaces for a while, and I am surrounded by this conversation from my work, my house, my church, and even in the digital realm. The more and more I seek to find safer spaces to congregate, the more I become disillusioned and concerned by people and their willingness to disrespect safe spaces.

The other day, a friend of mine posted the picture above on Facebook that contextualized this situation for me…people are getting fed up with their safe spaces being invaded. This picture represents a place in Anderson where they have said no more. They have said, we do not want to allow a polarizing conversation into a place where we are practicing health and wellness. Who wants to work-out in a place where you hear the political bickering facilitating stress.

We are allowing politics to invade our safe spaces and it is tearing friends a part, tearing families a part, tearing church congregations a part…and we are not willing to leave at the door. The political conversation right now has invaded our lives, taken over our ethic, and encouraged us as consumers to by into division, polarizing conversation, commitment to one is right and one is wrong. We are buying into this culture, hook, line, and sinker.

Every conversation that has deep discussion turns into escalation, one that requires parties to pick sides…just pick a side and dig you heels in the sand. It is pathetic.

We have safe spaces, places where we feel like we can share and know that we will not be judged but regarded as important. We want people to listen, we need affirmation, we need to be heard, and we need not be judged because of the very thoughts we need to share.

For over ten years, I have been helping large healthcare organizations build social media communities, spaces where people can share and have conversations regardless of geography. As these social media communities grew, we started realizing we need to build smaller affinity groups allowing like minded people further self-select, and join more closed online groups to connect and share. As we built these spaces on Facebook and other social outlets, we started realizing we had to create rules for the communities. 

Here is an example, a set of rules for a community on Facebook:

THIS ORGANIZATION is reaching out via social media to support healthy lifestyle initiatives across the ORGANIZATION’s community. Like all online communities, this private Facebook page has some common sense guidelines for online behavior. All participants signed a release form summarized here. Remember that even though this is a private page there is always the potential for posts to become public. We encourage participant engagement and mutual support. This page is not intended for personal communication between you and your healthcare provider or for seeking urgent medical attention. Moderators will monitor this page frequently but not necessarily daily. Inappropriate posts (i.e. foul language, advertising, misinformation) will be edited or deleted.

It was just a few weeks ago, I had a social media post on a physician practice Facebook page turn into a mud slinging affair over the flu shot. With the large flu season we are experiencing, this physician practice was advocating for more people to get their flu shot. In a matter of 12 hours, more than 1000 people had seen this post with anti-vaccine groups from across the nation commenting against this post, fighting with many people in the commenting section. To this date, this post has reached over 8000 people with over 1500 comments. We had to use the rules to tell commenters not to make any threats, no harsh language, and to be respectful in this spirited debate over vaccinations. We ended up blocking numerous people from the page, hiding lots of comments, and even reporting some individuals to Facebook. We had rules, and they were broken.

We have found that we must set rules for the community. We must remind those who join these closed and/or private communities that it is important to respect this space. 

It is time…to set rules for our safe spaces. I do not mean just on social media, but in the communities that we find refuge. We must create covenants for those who want to commit to join these safe spaces. This includes spaces like our Sunday School classes, our poker clubs, book clubs, places to exercise, spaces where we believe will bring positive energy to our lives…we must have rules.

This is disturbing…that we have to set rules so people understand how to have compassion, empathy, and love for other human beings including their thoughts, ideas, morals, ethics, and questions they are pondering in this thing we call life.

It was not long ago our family was faced with some tough conversations, challenging conversations that brought tough exploration. As the tension rose in these conversations, we had to remind each other that the living room where we sat is a safe space, a place for exploration and deep conversation. We had to remind each other that we would not let the tough conversation become the one topic that would divide our unity as a family. We had to protect our safe space from all outside forces.

I am finding this more and more, all around me. It was not long ago that I was so upset, which is the major reason I am writing this right now; one of my safe spaces was invaded. The trust was broken and the conversation was leveraged for personal gain. I was amongst a group of people that I trusted and a few members in the room broke that trust. That conversation was leveraged to create a divisive debate that entangled with political discussion. Politics had once again found it’s way into the door and the political theater of nationalism had invade a closed spiritual discussion.

We must take a stand. We must resist the ideal that political division and the sociopathic notion that “we must always be right” does not have a place in our safe spaces…especially the space where we worship. We must embrace separation of church and state and protect the spaces where we find the fuel that provides our daily life and spiritual walks. 

We must protect our safe spaces.

We must set rules for these spaces and be willing to ask those who break the rules to either change their approach or leave. We need to have spaces where we find our fuel; because those safe spaces are the core to a unique path of become better community members.