So recently I came across this:
Looking through it, I see it as an excellent opportunity to talk about an issue that I have wanted to talk about for a long time. It is a sensitive topic but it is near and dear to me, given my immersion in university life and education. However, I’d like to begin by tying it to my autistic experience. If I do not, there is no reason to talk about it here in this blog.
When I was little (and even still today to a lesser degree), I had what I call my strong literal sense. When I hear something, my first instinct is to take it literally. Jokes and euphemisms generally went over my head as I took the literal meaning of what was said. Also, in my sensitivity it was really easy for my feelings to be hurt. Perhaps that was okay when I was little, but adults carry certain expectations of each other.
As I got older, I held onto a particular idea on the nature of university. I thought of university as a open marketplace of ideas. People share their ideas and consider the ideas of others. Bad ideas would be removed from the collective as better ideas emerge to replace them. Good ideas thrive because they stand on their own, while bad ideas only require so much prodding before they crumble to dust.
In order to get the best out of that, I had to learn to be better at taking jokes, and over time that is exactly what happened. Sometimes a joke flies over my head still, but I no longer get offended by things nearly as easily as I would have in the past. I especially am careful to be calm in the face of other ideas. This takes time to adjust to, but if you have the will, you will manage. I can attest to this.
I wanted to be better at listening to ideas, but to do that I had to keep my mind open and consider the ideas presented to me. After reasonable consideration, I may then chose if I agree with it or not. While doing so, I remain civil. An open mind is like a sifter. All ideas enter on one side and are considered. The bad ones are filtered out, but the good ones remain. If I allow myself to get offended, then I am putting a block between the idea and the sifter. As such, I cannot properly consider the idea if I begin by taking offense.
Lastly, I must always remain open to the idea that I may be wrong, or that I may change my mind in the future. There are few beliefs that I hold totally sacred because I want my beliefs to be as accurate and truth-preserving as possible. As such, I must at any moment be ready to discard old ideas should they be false or should new ideas be better.
Now I get the idea behind this whole trigger warning stuff. Especially with really sensitive issues, I can understand the idea of it being very difficult to talk about or listen to. It is a well-meaning idea.
On the other hand it is flawed and taken too far, especially in university where ideas are meant to be shared. Instead, this whole trigger warning thing is being used as a shield against ideas. This is not something that I can agree with in university. University cannot be both a marketplace of ideas and a place where people can protect themselves from ideas.
Now to be clear, I don’t believe in actively trying to offend someone in personal interaction. I believe in civil discourse and sharing ideas. Insults and active offense is unnecessary and counterproductive. However, the idea that I have to be extra careful of what I say because I may accidentally offend someone is difficult for me to get behind. If I say something that offends you personally, tell me and I’ll apologize and avoid such in the future. If I say something that offends someone else, it’s not your responsibility to be offended on their behalf. I have always found it funny when someone says “No offense to person X” when they’re talking to me. It is not my business to be offended on person X’s behalf, although I might say “maybe you should tell person X that and let them decide what they think.”
I find the article’s focus on mental health to be fascinating. What happens to an individual who learns to think in terms of trigger warnings and micro aggressions to the point where they are policing and being policed by others? According to this article, anxiety and depression. In particular I can see anxiety as a consequence. As people carefully navigate a social minefield for an extended period of time, their mind is forged to think of everything in terms of things that are said and possible hidden slights.
I noticed with myself that as I got older, I learned new things and got better at listening to ideas and sharing ideas. The better I got at this, the more confident I became and the less my condition affected me. When a new avenue of thought is revealed to me, I revel in it and became less anxious. When my thought was restricted, I was more anxious. When the ideas I had were incomplete, I was more anxious.
But I am one individual, always interested in the ideas of others, hoping that his university caters to that interest, and hoping to find people who share his love for ideas. If you disagree, let’s discuss it, for as one of my favourite quotes goes:
“If anyone can refute me – show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective – I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius