Trigger Warning: Not about running.
A few weeks ago, I replied to a friend’s post on the soul-vacuum that is Facebook. This person had shared a link to a comic someone had drawn about why rape jokes aren’t cool. The comic was entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’, and the link contained the title of the comic. I think it’s fairly safe to deduce that clicking on the link would provide content that dealt, in one way or another, with the issue of rape, no? And this is coming from someone who regularly fails to pick up on what I call ‘the subtleties of life’, but others call ‘a 50 foot billboard with clear typography’. Whatever.
The fact that they posted a link to a comic about rape jokes was not my beef. What irked me was the fact that they felt it necessary/appropriate/”considerate” to attach a ‘Trigger Warning’ to it. You know, in case anyone that gets emotional or upset when they are exposed to anything on the subject of rape accidentally clicks through on a link entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’ without realizing that it might have something to do with, oh, I don’t know, rape. My eyes rolled so far back in my head they hurt.
I might have had a less intense reaction if this had been an isolated incident, but increasingly I am seeing ‘Trigger Warnings’ attached to articles that don’t really need any kind of explanation about their content. A little online investigation taught me that ‘Trigger Warnings’ were originally used for PTSD in groups where it was extremely common for certain sounds/sights/smells to trigger a severe emotional response that was obviously extremely unpleasant for the person involved. In a controlled setting where that kind of a response is common, that seems legit, I guess. But now?
It would appear Universities have bowed to pressure from various student groups (with, perhaps, too much time on their hands) and, to ensure a ‘safe’ environment for all their pupils and avoid the slanderous ‘discrimination’ tag, have started requesting their lecturers to attach Trigger Warnings to course content that may offend/trigger students. At least – they had done so. It’s telling that a large part of Oberlin College’s ‘Support Resources for Staff’ has been removed from their website, but an archived version can be found here.
Jill Filipovic explains it better (or in a more level-headed way) than I probably could, but the gist of her article is that we are pandering too much to a vast minority of people who may find it uncomfortable to read about something unpleasant. University is a place where students learn life skills, expand their minds, and learn to act as an adult, and, according to Filipovic, all of this molly-coddling is a backwards step:
[Universities are,] hopefully, a space where the student is challenged and sometimes frustrated and sometimes deeply upset, a place where the student’s world expands and pushes them to reach the outer edges – not a place that contracts to meet the student exactly where they are.
She also points out that triggers “are often unpredictable and individually specific”, listing several things people have found ‘triggering’, including holes, discussion of consensual sex, and ‘slimy things’. Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge and professor at Harvard Law School, agrees, pointing out that there, “are no more trigger warnings the minute [students] graduate.”
Furthermore, research is starting to show that avoidance of ‘triggering’ things is counterproductive, and that, in fact, exposure is a more effective way of dealing with traumatic events.
Richard J McNally touches on this when he outlines some of the reasons he feels Trigger Warnings are problematic. He says:
Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault. For example, prolonged exposure therapy, the cognitive behavioral treatment pioneered by clinical psychologists Edna B. Foa and Barbara O. Rothbaum, entails having clients close their eyes and recount their trauma in the first-person present tense. After repeated imaginal relivings, most clients experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as traumatic memories lose their capacity to cause emotional distress. Working with their therapists, clients devise a hierarchy of progressively more challenging trigger situations that they may confront in everyday life. By practicing confronting these triggers, clients learn that fear subsides, enabling them to reclaim their lives and conquer PTSD.
Conquering something would sure be nicer than constantly living with the feeling that you aren’t in control of your life, right? Not relying on other people to mind-read things that trigger a severe emotional and/or physical response would be just swell. Right?
Nope, turns out I should tiptoe around any potential issues that might upset somebody.
Thankfully, me and green manage to overcome our difference in opinion and not sling insults at each other, because we’re grown-ups, which is pleasant, though neither of us is keen to adopt the other’s views. My view remains that trigger warnings in the public domain are OTT, and, generally, encouraged by people who may have experienced something traumatic but want to milk sympathy from the experience. His (or her, for the sake of anonymity) views remain unchanged, because he (or she!) is probably a much more sympathetic person. The world moves on.
Whenever I used to complain about something to my parents, I’d get the same response: Sometimes life isn’t fair, and you don’t always get what you want. You can’t make people fall in love with you, you can’t have candy for breakfast (“Oh yes you can!” – Adult Me), you can’t be an astronaut if you’re blind in one eye, and you can’t just expect people to look out for your feelings all the time by attaching a trigger warning to a Shakespeare play because it deals with some upsetting themes (suicide, unrequited love, murder – and that’s just ‘Romeo and Juliet’). Falling down just allows you to teach yourself how to get back up again, and that is a useful skill to have.
After all, how dull would it be if anything that may bring harm to people was banned? Just in case. It would drive me nuts.
Or, you know, maybe I am an asshole. Feedback appreciated.