Safe Space. Merriam-Webster’s definition: “a place intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations”
Those demanding safe spaces are sometimes referred to as Snowflakes. For them, the world is a dangerous place. Physically dangerous. And especially emotionally. Challenging speech is seen as violence. Uncomfortable facts need to come with trigger warnings. Adversarial voices should be silenced.
Safe Spaces increase fragility
If children are protected from risks, adversity and disappointments, will they develop better, contribute more and become happier adults? Scientists, like professor Jonathan Haidt are finding the opposite. A highly protected youth make us more fragile as adults. Just like with the immune system. The more we protect children from peanuts, the more will develop peanut allergy. Overprotection in youth leads to life-long fragility. Also, in psychological terms.
Medals to everyone
The safe spaces theology is spreading from US university campuses across the Anglo-Saxon speaking world into many parts of society. Even sports. Over-protective parents want their offspring to lift the cup without the risk of losing or being injured. Coaches have to adapt by only giving positive input. In competitions, no scores are kept, nobody is declared the winner and everyone gets medals. All to avoid that dark feeling of having played badly and lost. There is a side effect of such an environment. You will never learn how to navigate resistance, risk and defeat.
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,Yours is the Earth”
In competitive sports, a team that only understands positive feed-back will lose against one that knows how to draw energy from the darker feelings you get to know when losing. In rugby this is referred to as “digging deep”. This extra force decided the 2019 rugby world cup final. Nearly all experts and the pre-match odds predicted that the mighty England team would win. This Goliath of world rugby had just dethroned the old king, the mighty All Blacks. But in this final, David won. In his first words after the win, the South African captain, told the world that his team had not been playing to win for themselves but for all the people of their troubled nation. In every tackle, every scrum, ruck and maul, letting their people down was simply not an option. England had much more experience, more muscle mass but in that final numbers didn’t help against the power the underdog could find through digging deep.
No necessity - no innovation
“Necessity is the mother of innovation”, or as the Oxford dictionary explains it; “if you really need to do something, you will think of a way of doing it“. It doesn’t say; “if you get ever more positive feed-back you will become motivated to find a better solution”. Why not? Because innovation is indeed the result of our having our back against the wall. Take away that wall, and you take away a big driver of innovation.
Unless you outsmart it….
By numbers, New Zealand is a medium sized rugby nation. England has 6 times as many male senior rugby players to pick their national team from. South Africa has 5 times, France 5 times, even the US has twice as many players and so on. In spite of this, New Zealand has dominated international rugby longer than any national team in any major sport. How has this been possible? The All Blacks’ long dominance has come from leading both technical and tactical development of the game itself. When your competitors are bigger and stronger, you need to be smarter, more innovative to win. David used a sling shot to win against the mighty Goliath with his swords and armor.
In the semi-final between England and the All Blacks, there was no sling-shot, and Goliath won. Without innovation, the All Blacks could lose again and again against the biggest, most powerful rugby nation on earth; England.
Creating and doing the unexpected are the tools of the underdog, perhaps the only ones. Another rugby world cup team, the Brave Blossoms of Japan, coached by another New Zealander, brought a super-sonic version of attacking rugby, which saw them reach the quarter finals by beating two great rugby nations, Ireland and Scotland.
Bad ideas travel
A New Zealand politician once said: “every bad idea from the US comes here about 3-4 years later.” The effects of the safe space theology has, according to professor Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Coddling of the American Mind” just started to show in the statistics on New Zeeland youth. At the same time as an increasing number of New Zeeland universities are offering safe spaces, there is a measured increase in youth anxiety, loss of purpose, self-harm and suicides.
For the fans who want to see the All Blacks back in a rugby world cup final, let’s hope that New Zeeland universities and schools reject the safe space victim theology and see it for what it is; a really, really bad idea that could turn many potential future All Blacks into snowflakes.