My blog is not a safe space. I’ve never claimed it was a safe space, I’ve never suggested or implied safety or protection or promised I will avoid certain topics. Having said that, I have never covered rape, politics, religion, ideologies, or anything much more than a pile of science and my own ideas about brains and how they work. But I could cover any of those if I wanted, because it’s my blog.
My blog is a purposeful space. I could cover anything, right here and now. My blog is for the purpose of having a space for me to post content on the internet.
Most of the times I have heard of a safe space, it’s been getting into trouble for not being a safe space. My problem with safe space is ineffectiveness. While struggling to articulate why this is a problem, I stumbled across the words that I needed.
A safe space fits inside the broader category of a space that is designated to a particular purpose. My house is a purposeful space, it’s purpose is to be the residence in which I live. My office is a purposeful space, it’s the space in which I work. I could live out of my office and work out of my home if I want to.
A purposeful space is defined by intention. Wikipedia is a purposeful website space for “developing and maintaining open content, wiki-based projects and providing the full contents of those projects to the public free of charge”. A church is a purposeful space for religious worship. The chess club is a purposeful space for people to meet and play chess.
A purposeful space risks being leaky around the purpose. People in the chess club can also make friends and be social, some people might go to the chess club and never play chess. The chess club is not about tiling the universe with ongoing chess games. But after a while, if more people stand around making friends than playing chess, maybe just maybe it’s time to rename the chess club to “friend club”.
The trouble with a safe space is, what happens when it’s not safe? What do we do with an unsafe safe space? Do we throw out the cause of the lack of safety? That feels pretty uncomfortable if it’s a person being thrown out – feels unsafe for that person probably. Seems like the main thing that a safe space does is cause arguments around the safety or relative lack of safety of the space (although I imagine they can do a lot of good and are designed with positive intention in mind).
In contrast, the purposeful space of the “chess club” reacts differently to a failure of the purpose. In a purposeful space, anyone can walk in and notice the purpose not being fulfilled. And figure out what we do when that happens. “It looks like people are not playing chess in the chess club, I thought the purpose of the chess club was to play chess. Who wants to play chess with me?”.
“Well actually this is the friend club, chess club is in the next room over, but you are welcome to stay and be friends”.
The solution to a failed purpose is to do what I might naturally do, “looks like the chess club does not play chess, I am leaving”. This idea expands, “looks like the Australian Health Party is more concerned about anti-vaccination than it is about my values around health. I am going to vote for someone else.” (*this policy may have changed) And when reflected to a safe space, “the space that was supposed to be safe doesn’t feel safe to me, I don’t have any safe space to go to!”.
In a purposeful space, who has the ”right” to question the purpose? That depends on the defined purpose. In the world of smart etherium contracts the evaluation is carried out by existing technological processes. In the world of humans, a human can evaluate the purpose. Humans have built in machinery to let them evaluate ideas or purposes. From that, consensus is all that is needed to change a purposeful space back to its purpose.
There is a question of expectation, obligation. Who is obligated in a purposeful space, who has the right to place any expectations on reality and declare that reality should conform to my desires and expectations? (I do declare war against the current configuration of the atoms in the universe and desire a different setup)
Private purpose space
See also “No Homers Club”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbXjt_ZlVOE
Some purposeful spaces appear to be public spaces, but in fact don’t act like public spaces. Yes it’s called the chess club but it’s actually just where Alice goes to hang out with her friends and play poker. If Bob wants to try to play chess in what is implied as the chess club, he’s going to have a bad time.
What’s the point of labelling it the chess club if that’s not what happens in the room? I’m going to tag this paragraph, “signalling purposes”. This labelling error is tedious and annoying for anyone trying to sort the universe by it’s arbitrary label. But maybe a chess club gets tax privilege over a poker club or some other kind of signalling bonus where only a specific kind of person is willing to seek out a chess club, and those are all of the people Alice wants to make friends with.
Keep an eye out for the hidden purpose of a space. Not all purposes are obvious. Welcome to reality where sometimes people don’t label reality accurately for any number of internally useful reasons.
Purposeful spaces and unsavory purposes
Sometimes a space is needed to discuss unsavory topics, or process unsavory experiences. The police need a space where they can talk about terrorist tactics so that they can plan around how to protect society from terrorism.
Therapy needs to be a place that I can embarrassingly express that I fantasise about killing my boss without being condemned and without my boss finding out. Without the purposeful space and the privacy to describe my fantasy, there would be less safety, I could not address the embarrassment which is bothering me around my fantasy, or the frustration that caused the fantasy, and I could not effectively process that frustration to a more savory and prosocial experience to share with other people.
The inside of my own head needs to be a space where I can go to unsavory places too. If I can never entertain that fantasy, I can never process it and let it go, the idea becomes a thorn in my side until it either drives me mad, trying to get me to process it, interact with it, validate that experience or I die with the concept incomplete.
There’s a fear, that if I permit the unsavory, I might actually get to the unconscionable act of killing my boss. I want to lock down even thinking about permitting those thoughts so that I don’t accidentally do that either. Suddenly a part of my brain lives in vigilance and fear of what I cannot think (because I’m not allowed). Then guilt. A layer of feeling bad about the fear about the things I can’t think. Then anger, about feeling guilty, I only feel guilty about hating myself because I believe I am a bad person, then depression, because I can’t be angry all the time, I’m so tired of that. (and on it goes)
This fear, the layers of emotions, are more likely to do damage than just entertaining that thought to begin with. And accepting that from the start. In this way, entertaining madness is closer to the sane choice than clinging to sanity is to approaching madness.
It’s not always possible, maybe I don’t feel like I can go to unsavory places on my own. That’s what good therapy, spirituality or friends are for. Remember, other people’s problems never look as bad as my own. So maybe there’s a use for sharing problems.
Purposeful spaces are needed. For healing, growth, training/practice, creativity, play, experimentation/trials, safety, ideas. And for most of these, already exist.
Foundations for a purposeful space
- Time + patience
- Space (free space, spare space)
And a question – how many of these are covered by the word “permission” to do these things.
Presently I see with purpose. I reflectively look at intention. I rest on a layer above the simple present. I try to see where that’s coming from. Because maybe then I can navigate the undefined purposes of all the rest of reality.
How do we cultivate possibility without the purposeful intention to do so? My existence is a purposeful space. The purpose is an unfolding discovery of the purpose of this space.