Monday Musings: Trigger Warning: My View on Trigger Warnings

There has been a lot of interest lately on the issue of trigger warnings. For those who may not know, a trigger warning is a label put on something (books, films, music, blog posts, forum questions, anything, really) that may have content that could disturb another person. I found this article:

which explains how far some people want to push the idea of trigger warnings. Personally, I think it’s hogwash.

Now, I certainly agree that there are people, many of them, who have experienced real trauma, and I understand that for some, knowing that something they may see or read or hear contains reminders of that trauma, is useful and probably healthy. What I find hard to accept is the idea that everyone should be sheltered from anything that might be disturbing or uncomfortable. Some of the proposals being circulated on these college campuses are just far too broad. Warn students that there is potentially disturbing material in a book or film? Sure. Allow them to see or read something less upsetting? No. At least, not as a blanket policy. Case by case allowances for some make sense, but there should be a demonstrable reason for the exception. Not just “I don’t want to see/hear/read that stuff. It makes me uncomfortable.”

We, as a culture, have become too willing to stay well within our own comfort zone, whether it be physical or intellectual. We don’t want anything to challenge our beliefs. We don’t want anything to attempt to change our opinions or perceptions. And we certainly don’t want anything that attempts to pull us out of our comfortable existence to be alarming or frightening.

The thing is, we need to be upset. We need to be disturbed. We need to know that there are bad things out there in the world. More than that, our college age people need to be aware of these things, because they are the ones who will be at the forefront of change. The ones who will face these issues, and, with a little luck, at least begin to eliminate them. And it is when we are disturbed and upset by prejudice, violence, intolerance, or any other “trigger” issues, that we begin to think about them, and about how we can work to eliminate the problem. What we can’t do is cover it up. Pretend it isn’t there. Hide behind a comfort zone of never being upset or disturbed or even sickened by something that actually exists.

Is there a place for trigger warnings? Yes. But that place is not as a blanket policy that doesn’t allow for the very necessary value there is in talking about serious and upsetting things.