Perspectives

A warning about trigger warnings: The dangers of protective vindictiveness

Politically correct colleges are actually harming their students by trying to protect them from ever being offended.

On many college campuses, a movement is afoot to shut down statements or topics that might offend some people, or that will “trigger” unpleasant feelings or emotions. They’re called “microagressions.” And what qualifies as a “microagression” that may “trigger” someone these days can get downright ridiculous.

For example, earlier this year at Brandeis University, an Asian American student group put up a display with comments such as, “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and even “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” Well, even this was too much for some other Asian students, who said the display itself was offensive—and had it taken down. Meanwhile, the University of California system has deemed many statements, including “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” to be offensive.

Now you can’t make this stuff up, but it’s no laughing matter.

In The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt note that “The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And … this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”

Lukianoff and Haidt correctly observe that such foolishness is anathema to the very idea of higher education—that the campus should be a place where tough questions can be asked without fear or favor, and where students are taught not what to think but how to think. They point out that the effort to shield people from what is unpleasant or what they fear actually can make phobias worse.

They write, “According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided …What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection?”

It’s a good question we need to ask in the church, too. Censoring everything that makes our kids uncomfortable prepares them for a world that simply doesn’t exist. Christian Smith’s research on the religious beliefs of young people and the pallid “moralistic therapeutic deism” that many of them have withdrawn into suggests that we must not only help them develop a Christian worldview, but a robust Christian worldview, one that’s big enough for the brokenness, the struggle, the challenges, and the tensions of the real world.

Steve Garber, in one of my favorite books on education, “The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior”, describes what a “big enough” worldview looks like. First, he says, we need to see the Bible not as a collection of rules and maxims but as a single story of God’s plan of redemption of all things, and where our role is in that story. Second, Garber says, a “big enough” worldview won’t constrict our options as believers but will instead open the doors of our imagination in all areas of life.

Third, and this is a big one for young people, a “big enough” worldview will help us confront all issues of life. How different from the cramped visions of political correctness on our campuses today! And fourth, Garber says, a “big enough” worldview is measured not just by our formal doctrines and creeds—as important as they are—but how it impacts our lives. After all, our worldview is not revealed by what we say, but how we live.

John Stonestreet

 

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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