Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being Afraid of the Whale

Moby-Dick: "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale."

I was e-mailing with the friend who'd recommended the TV show Transparent (which I've yet to watch because it's on Amazon and I've got Netflix---oh, the complexities). 

She told me about a trans pal who leads trainings in which, my friend wrote, 
"he allows people to feel safe enough to ask questions, trusting that he will be respectful in his answers. I think safety is such a key piece in human interactions, don't you?"

Do I think safety is a key piece in human interactions?

No, I don't.

"I know what you mean," I wrote back, 
"and I agree with the idea of creating places where people can ask questions freely,
but I like respect so much more than safety.

Mutual respect. 
Also, sympathy (kindness/compassion)."
safety, from Latin salvus = "uninjured, in good health"
respect, from Latin specere = "to look at" 
sympathy, from Latin sympathia = "community of feeling"
I thinking "looking with fellow feeling" is a better key to human interactions than safety
I'm not a big fan of the phrase "safe spaces".
Safety tends to be an illusion, or stagnant.

How does a person stay uninjured? 
By not playing, not leaving their comfort zone, by staying silent––or by requiring other people to stay silent. I.e., stagnant.

Creating is not safe. Risk is the opposite of safe.

risk, from riscare = "to run into danger" (of uncertain origin)

I do see the value of someone doing the political work of educating people about difference, and to do that, yeah, it's probably smart to create a "safe space".

But who is it safe for?
Not for the teacher. 

The teacher is taking the risk for the team--for their future safety:
"If I can make the students understand, they will be less dangerous to us."

It's the teacher in the boat with Starbuck. 

                              Starbuck Leaning Against the Mainmast, ca. 1930 --by Rockwell Kent, via

Taking a risk to build mutual respect. That's what I think is key in human interactions. 
It's not safe. 


Michael Leddy said...

I like this post a lot, Fresca. It makes me remember teaching Huck Finn and Light in August and Invisible Man and other fraught works. And I remember what a colleague told me one of his students said about Huck Finn — that she thought it was okay to teach in a high-school setting as long as there weren’t any black kids in the class. There’s one person’s idea of a safe space.

ArtSparker said...

A very clear eyed post - "Safe" lends itself both to being infantilizing and impossible. Plus,it's current cant.

Frex said...

MICHAEL: Oh, interesting, I wasn't even thinking of classroom teaching.
Good, sad example of how suppsed "safe" space can mean exclusion.

It's a tricky challenge, isn't it, to handle some hot potatoes, like race.
I was inspired (mentioned before) the Mennonite U's program "Coming to the Table"
I see they use the word "supportive," not space--I like that:
"Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery."

ZHOEN: That's why I like eymology--delving for my own understanding into the depths of the words' meanings...

SPARKER: "infantilizing and impossible"--there's some good words!
Cant. And can't!

deanna said...

I really like this post. "Respect" fits you as far as I know you. Seeking supportive respect of others is a worthwhile process to engage in. Thanks for your reminders of this.

Fresca said...

DEANNA: Thanks. Like Thomas Jefferson, I often fall far short of my ideals, but I do think it's important to have them! At least I'm generally aiming in a direction I *want* to go.