I could not believe my eyes or ears when I watched the recent ABC Four Corners story about the growth of trigger warnings in Universities. You can read about it here.
The kids behind this move, who no doubt grew up with helicopter parents sheltering them, are now wanting to be protected from life itself. They have a long list of subject areas which Universities in USA and now Monash University here in Australia, will provide “trigger warnings” for, in order to advise students of potentially distressing material. Let me provide my own warning to these delicate little flowers – the real world is distressing.
All around us, at every moment, in every corner of the world, bad things happen. Rape, violence, war, crime and all of the harmful, distressing things humans do to each other, the animal kingdom and the environment are occurring over and over again. They might be happening next door to you, they might be happening to you or someone you love. But this is not the time to put blinkers on and sit in a protective bubble. Holding your hands over your eyes and ears while singing “la la la” loudly is not going to make anything bad go away. Sheltering yourself, or others, from evil does not mean it disappears.
We need to be reminded that bad things happen so we can try to stop those who choose to cause harm. If we are not made aware of the evil in this world, how can we begin, as a society, to plan against it? Through the ages, it has always been the creatives and the intellectuals – the artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, academics and the like, who have brought our attention to the disharmonies in the world. Their works have challenged audiences to look at things they might not have seen, and to think in ways they might not have thought before.
The same kids who have requested these “trigger warnings” are also attempting to ban certain literary texts, those they consider to be distressing. Let us remind ourselves that this is exactly what dictators and oppressors attempt to do. Hitler burnt books, various Communist and other extremist regimes have banned books and creatives they disagree with. To have a one sided, biased view of the world is a seriously dangerous thing. It is up to society to ensure a balance is in place, and Universities have long had the reputation of being able to project this balance; to present ideas and hypothesis which may be scary or distressing, but need to be brought to our attention and debated.
I am not saying that those who have suffered in some way need to be constantly reminded of their suffering. They need to be encouraged to self-censor. Just as I choose not to watch or read anything in the genre of horror because I know it distresses me, they need to do their own research and avoid the genres which distress them. But I certainly don’t attempt to ban anyone else from watching or reading horror stories.
I don’t think we need trigger warnings, I think we need informed conversation about issues which are challenging and confronting, as well as those we are comfortable with.