Where do you feel safe? Interesting to learn about the changing meaning of ‘safe space’ on BBC Radio’s Keywords for Our Time. This phrase moved from its original 1940s business context — permission for employees to give feedback without fear of retribution — to feeling secure when revealing your innermost feelings to a counsellor, to a conference’s quiet space as refuge from overpowering social noise, into an agenda for personal protection from harmful speech and, by extension, ideas. A case of ‘freedom to’ shifting into ‘freedom from’?
Journalist Isabel Hardman had previously dismissed ‘safe space’ but experienced her need for its protection against harmful comments during group therapy. Words can injure. But is such an easily movable ‘container’ useful? “‘Space’ is probably unhelpfully nebulous because you don’t really know what it applies to. And therefore it can be extended from a group therapy session to a debate that will make students feel ‘unsafe’.” Then again, in times when we’re all increasingly conscious of environmental instability and extinction, exposed to ‘climate grief‘, might the ‘safe space’ concept shift again?
“As we continue trying to live together well, it is worth all of us considering what it is we want to be safe from.”