Safe spaces not comfort zones

Some months ago, my work family Root Systems had a cultural problem:

Our so-called safe space was really a comfort zone!

caution: my perspectives on safety and comfort are privileged.

What is a comfort zone?§

A comfort zone is where you are free from any _dis_comfort.

A comfort zone is where you can avoid fear, uncertainty, doubt, stress, or situational anxiety.

From The Prophet (emphasis mine):

And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses?
And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.
It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

What is a safe space?§

A safe space is a space where violence, harassment, or hate speech against marginalized groups is not tolerated.

A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect, dignity and feelings and strongly encourage everyone to respect others. - Advocates for Youth

safe ally

A safe space is where you feel seen, where you feel heard, where you feel loved, as you are.

Safety not comfort§

A safe space is not always a comfort zone!

A safe space is where you’re safe to be vulnerable, you’re encouraged to be your authentic self, you are supported for being you.

Even in the safest of spaces, people make mistakes, situations may become tense, conflicts may arise, work may be tough, it’s okay!

A safe space does not guarantee you will be free from unintended discomfort based on real challenges, but you will be free to be yourself to face those challenges!

Safe for who?§

I notice that there is a meme floating around regarding safe spaces, with a small baby of truth amongst the dirty bathwater.

Originally, safe spaces were created as a way to protect marginalized groups. This is a great idea!

However, I notice how sometimes “safe spaces” are now used as a way to punish other groups, often for mistakes due to ignorance not malice.

Extrapolated beyond reason into an infectious narrative, this becomes “political correctness gone too far”.

But amongst the unreason, there is a small nugget of truth that people aren’t able to be themselves.

People don’t feel safe when they think they will be attacked for being themselves.

Yes, this is most important for marginalized groups, where default society is not a safe space for them to be themselves.

This is also important for everyone, we all deserve to be our best authentic selves, even when we make mistakes.

How to welcome discomfort§

Our comfort is a privilege, not an entitlement.

When we stay within our comfort zone, we enable our weaknesses at the expense of hinder personal growth.

Paradoxically, to become a better person we want to choose to be uncomfortable, to face our fears directly.

To face our fears, we should be grounded in a supportive network of strength and care.

We won’t find our best self in our comfort zone, it will be found in the (sometimes uncomfortable) safe space!

Notable mentions§