Thursday, May 12, 2016

No more “Safe” Spaces



So, last month, Michael Bloomberg gave the commencement address at the University of Michigan. Apparently, parts of his address garnered some negative reaction from the audience and the press. But should it have?

The crux of his address rested on the need to stop demagoguery, and how to do that. The part that caused the most chatter was this:

"The most useful knowledge that you leave here with today has nothing to do with your major. It’s about how to study, cooperate, listen carefully, think critically and resolve conflicts through reason. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it’s why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through "safe spaces," "code words" and "trigger warnings" is, in my view, a terrible mistake.

The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations -- not run away from them. A microaggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.

We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try -- not in politics or in the workplace. In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess."

 
In so many ways, I couldn’t agree more. We are continuing to turn out young people who are not just ill-equipped to deal with the everyday challenges of real life, but are incapable of doing so. Conflict, both constructive conflict, as well as destructive conflict, is part of the real world. And it sometimes seems that those conflicts are more and more real and more and more part of our everyday existence. The inability to process, cope with and surmount these issues is not what we should be teaching potential future leaders. In fact, I submit that people who are not able to deal with these realities cannot be leaders in any true sense of the word.

As an HR professional, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had parents (or grandparents, aunts or uncles) insert themselves inappropriately into the work life of their adult children. Junior applies for a job, and Mom calls to ask why he wasn’t selected for an interview. Little Jane sends in an application and Dad calls to ask when she’ll start (sans any interview or contact). Or how about when Mom shows up, unannounced and uninvited, expecting to attend the disciplinary hearing for Junior?

Yes, I have experienced all of these helicopter parenting moves, and more. And guess what? It’s not just a recent thing, either. But it has gotten worse. We’ve certainly seen any number of stories about so-called "millennials" who expect top pay or raises and promotions well before they’ve ever proven themselves worthy of such consideration. Whether they expect that because they’ve always gotten the award just for showing up or for some other reason is aside from the point. The point is that this view is not realistic and not how the real work world works.

Attempting to shield people from everything that might upset, offend or confuse them is so obscenely counterproductive, and yet becoming so prevalent. And yet, as I write this, I also note the incredibly rude and cruel treatment people heap on others via social media! And somehow, we’re also expected to tolerate that behavior (I guess because to object to that behavior would be too offensive to these tender little snowflakes?) Hypocrisy, anyone?

Bloomberg’s address was really about political demagoguery:

"If we want to stop demagogues, we have to start governing again, and that requires us to be more civil, to support politicians who have the courage to take risks, and to reward those who reach across the aisle in search of compromise.

For all the progress we have made on cultural tolerance, when it comes to political tolerance, we are moving in the wrong direction -- at campaign rallies that turn violent, on social media threads that turn vitriolic, and on college campuses, where students and faculty have attempted to censor political opponents."

Even for a politician, that’s a pretty balanced view. We can’t hide from, or ignore these types of conflicts; we have to deal with them. Whether in our personal or professional lives, or in our political process.

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