A dear friend recently informed me of a new phenomenon that I hadn’t heard of before. A new trend in which people, us really. General citizens of the world, are actively choosing to deny witnessing or hearing certain parts of another person’s story. This could be another person’s article, another person’s creation - a piece of art, music, poetry, novel, etc. But essentially the viewer (or audience member or reader etc.) is choosing to deny the artist or the person that experienced something, the ability to tell their full truth. These individuals are putting the brakes on an opportunity to listen and experience something before the journey even begins.
This phenomenon is called an emotional alert, (actually it’s not called this, it’s called a “trigger warning” but I had to look this up, because I had never heard of it, and didn’t have any familiarity in my vocabulary for what this could be.)
So the gist, as my friend informs me, is that people are consciously choosing to “boycott” a piece of work because of its content. Let me give you an example – for instance, if I’m reading a newspaper, and after reading an article I enjoyed in the entertainment section on the trendy new restaurants in town, I turn the page to the current events section, and discover a disclaimer, a warning label, essentially a visual bell/whistle/alarm, telling me that the next article I’m about to read contains some content that “may not be suitable reading material” for me the reader, because it may make me feel uncomfortable. I receive a trigger warning.
Now, the reasons for why I may feel uncomfortable reading the story could be varied – it may be an article about a young entrepreneur who’s overcome life struggles and in her past, she may have suffered from incest or rape or violence…therefore, this article receives a 'XXX warning', telling the reader (me), like an impending doom sign on the roadway, “watch out ahead”, “proceed with caution”, this article contains subject matter dealing with rape, violence and incest – “you may experience some turbulence.”
Okay, I like to think of myself as a compassionate human being and I certainly strive to be empathetic and understanding towards the feelings of others, especially if someone has suffered from a similar human experience in which they don’t want to re-live horrible memories of being raped, or touched inappropriately themselves – but what purpose do these warning labels really serve? I always thought that by learning about other people’s experiences, we not only share in relating to that person’s story, but are we not also helping ourselves to process through our own uncomfortable emotions? And if we experienced something similar to the victim in the story, doesn’t this sharing of stories allow us to know and to learn that we’re not alone, that someone else has gone through what we have and experienced something similar?
Isn’t this “telling of our tales” the way that we bond as a human society together?
I worry that this preemptive choosing and selection of what’s ‘appropriate and not appropriate’ via these warnings may stunt our human growth and our own emotional intelligence.
More and more I feel like we’re growing into a society in which we’re choosing not to see, read, or hear about “the bad things” in our world – because we don’t want to feel an uncomfortable emotion, or we don’t want to believe that bad things can happen. We want to live in our bubbles of make believe, where only our own beliefs and “positive” feelings are expressed…never to cross paths with another individual with a different view point, who might shake the foundation of our perfectly maintained and manicured made up world.
Believe me, I know the appeal of creating this type of world for yourself. I remember as a child, my parents would do this for me. They would spin tales of a fantastical world in which everything was perfect and nothing ever went wrong. For a large part of my childhood, my parents owned their own business, and while things were very good at the beginning, the business began to struggle after a few years when competition came into the marketplace. Towards the end of their ownership, the financial burdens of owning their own business started to affect our family life. I recall being at the grocery store with my mother. We had piled the cart extremely high that day with all the essentials. I remember helping her to unload everything onto the conveyor belt and the clerk scanning through each item. When it came time to pay, my mom wrote a check for the amount, which was over one-hundred dollars. At that time, during the 1980’s that was a significant amount. Shortly after handing the cashier her check, he informed her that it could not be accepted because there was not enough money in her account. The check had bounced or a previous check of hers had bounced on a previous visit and we were red flagged as not having enough funds to be able to pay for the groceries we needed. It was incredibly embarrassing. I remember feeling waves of shame and I could see it on my mother’s face as well, but at the store she was indignant, it was the grocery store’s fault that her check was bouncing, not hers. Later, when I questioned my parents about what had happened, my parents continued to paint a picture of make believe for me. They thought they were protecting me by saying, “There’s no problem at all. We have plenty of money. It was the grocery store’s fault, not ours that the check had bounced.” But deep down, I knew the truth. I could feel it, although I wasn’t old enough at the time to understand my feelings. The truth was that our family business was in desperate trouble and my parents were on the verge of bankruptcy. And by sugar-coating that reality with falsehoods, denial and make believe, it just left me more confused and unsure with how to deal with my own emotions about it all. It’s no surprise that years later in my early twenties I faced my own financial hardships and didn’t understand or know how to resolve or respond to all of it because I’d never been allowed to emotionally process financial hardship as a child with the true feelings and emotions and consequences of that real world circumstance.
So, my dear friends, that bubble that you’re creating is not reality and it’s not really protecting you from the truth you’re so hoping to avoid. Instead, you’re missing so much of what makes this beautiful tapestry of a world in which we live in such an extraordinary place! The reason it’s important for me to hear a story about how a woman was harassed in a workplace environment by her employer is because it happened to me also. The reason I needed my parents to be honest with me and tell me the truth about their business is because there was a valuable lesson in that moment about humility and financial management. But I didn’t learn that lesson and went on later to have financial hardships myself because I never learned the lesson that sometimes bad things happen, and you need to plan ahead in case you’re faced with a similar circumstance. These stories also give us reassurance that we’re not alone. “I’m not a freak, I’m not abnormal – it’s not my fault” – it’s never your fault. Bad things happen every day to good people and to deny this opportunity to empathize with someone else’s story, to listen and to hear their testimony, we’re denying a piece of ourselves and our own truths.
We all need to learn to become more resilient once again. We are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We need to muster this inner strength and courage – to listen to another person’s view point and to allow them to speak, to share, and to express their feelings. Not because you agree with them or not…but because we’re all in this together.
No matter how much we want to bury our heads in the sand, hide our heads under our blankets, or deny the realities that surround us – the truth is, it’s ALL STILL THERE. The good, the bad, the glorious and the hideous. It’s all a part of this human experience that we’re on together, called life.
So, embrace your brothers and sisters. Embrace they’re stories. Say yes to life! Say yes to learning and discovering. And allow yourself to grown in the process.
And yes, it may be messy, and yes, it may certainly be painful. But, isn’t that why we’re all here anyway? To feel, to experience, to find ways, despite our “so-called” differences or ugliness, so that we can see the beauty in each other, despite all that? To find our commonalities? Because, I believe, truly we are all much more alike than we are different.