Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thoughts on trigger warnings

Recently I had the opportunity to do a de-escalation course run by Manline through my work. It might not seem like an obvious requirement for a soundy at a community radio station, but (while they're not common) I have had a couple of experiences at work where people have become threatening with me or other staff (usually after getting craftily drunk in the studio and being told to leave as a result).*

The course as a whole was really interesting, and I'd really recommend people checking something like that out if they ever get the chance. A lot of the techniques are interesting because of the way that they sort of "nudge" someone (or yourself) from one mental circuit** to another - which is close to Magic, I reckon.

However, what I want to talk about is a different exercise. What we did was to split into two groups and line up on opposite sides of the room. The group whose turn it was was instructed to identify the person opposite them as a real person from their past who made them "uncomfortable" (first names only, obviously).One by one, the facilitators instructed the people who were playing the roles of the "oppressors" to walk slowly toward the other participant.

The experience was really unpleasant in a really instructive way. As this person (who I'd met all of an hour previously) slowly advanced on me, I felt all of my self-defense systems come on at once. I found myself involuntarily drawing myself up tall, and holding a breath to make my chest and shoulders bigger. We were instructed that whenever we wanted to, we could tell the other participant to stop, and in my case that felt like an immediate and pressing need once they got within a couple of feet.

We were given the relevant instructions to dispel the phantom (and related feelings) that we'd just called up - but it was really striking how real the experience was. All the other participants reported the same thing - different specific symptoms, but all had very similar experiences.

Here's the thing, I'm a pretty mentally and physically healthy person. I'm a white, heterosexual dude in the Anglosphere. I've had the odd fairly unpleasant experience in my life, but nothing I could straight-facedly claim as life-shattering trauma. And the mere act of invoking a person from my past, and then having the person I'd assigned that identity to slowly advance on me in a conference room made me feel physically stirred up and unsettled.

What would that have been like if I was a person who faced some sort of oppression on a daily basis? What would it have been like if I'd had some really serious trauma tied to the experience that was being presented to me?

It bears some thought.

*An especial mention here goes to the charming gentleman who wandered into my office when I was a very young and inexperienced radio soundy, told me that if I called the cops he'd "fucking drop me", and then proceeded to tell me at length about how we were kindred spirits because I was a musician (a fact he'd have no way of knowing - so it was a mere lucky guess on his part) and he was an alcoholic. To his credit, when someone from outside the station called the cops, he was very polite to them.

** There's probably a more accurate term than "mental circuit", possibly even corresponding to brain areas. The point is that a lot of these nudges work by getting someone who's currently stuck in "fight or flight" and gently pushing them toward "reasoning" or "communicating" modes.

No comments:

Post a Comment