It appears that the concept of “safe spaces” has gained some traction in academia. In case you are new to the trend and conversation, here is the new definition from Merriam Webster: “A place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.” As students who have lived with this vernacular and concept graduate and enter the workforce, it will be interesting to see if this conversation begins to impact the workplace.
Certainly everyone wants a safe work environment. No one wants to be physically or verbally assaulted during the normal course of their duties (though brave officers, firefighters and soldiers accept this is a reality in their work). However, this concept of safe spaces has grown from basic safety from attack into an idea of being safe from views and perspectives which offend. Adding the ideas of “criticism” and “emotional harm” make the concept of safe spaces so much more nebulous, because a person can become offended or emotionally hurt by literally anything.
Business is an important preserver of truth, because it requires engagement in the real world. When hard facts like profits and losses, budgets and performance evaluations come into play, there are times when difficult conversations need to be had. At some point you cannot kick the can down the road—either someone repossesses your can or you run out of road. Though some have argued we are now a “post-truth” society, reality cannot be changed by mere willing. So where will the collision between reality and self-created delusion intersect?
The Bible speaks directly to these issues, and sheds important light on what we should be rooting for to win out in the marketplace of ideas. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” This is important because virtually no one enjoys confrontation. There is a reason for the expression, “don’t kill the messenger” – because it often happens. The point of the proverb is to make clear that one should be willing to endure the trouble of confrontation for an even greater good—the long term well-being of a friend.
This becomes really relevant in the conversation about safe spaces, because one of the arguments made here is that there is a whole category of important communication that could be classified as “un-safe”. It is hard to give a correction, and it is hard to hear it. But it is important. Depending on the error, it can be life-savingly important. If we allow a desire to avoid difficult or unpleasant ideas into our environment, we can become fatally ignorant of our shortcomings, and personal and professional growth will cease.
For this reason, it seems wise to resist this new definition of safe spaces. Certainly not because we want to promote an abusive environment, but because of this whole important category of “difficult truth”, which only the true friend or wise counselor is willing to deliver. The hope is that we can find the better good on the far side of confrontation, as another proverb indicates: “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue” (Proverbs 28:23).