An alternative to “safe space”

A very safe space“This is a safe space.”

We hear that a lot in coaching, counseling, consulting, and even in business meetings.

Groups on Facebook and on LinkedIn are touted as “safe space” where we can feel comfortable in the company of like-minded people: no one will push our buttons. Educational institutions are under pressure to create “safe space” where students and teachers are caring and careful not to bump into anyone’s triggers. Brainstorming meetings are described as “safe space” where attendees are reassured that they won’t be subjected to criticism or challenge.

It’s comforting.

It’s also comforting to be wrapped in a blanket and rocked to sleep.

And sometimes comfort is exactly what we need.

But in a “safe space” there’s inherently – indeed, intentionally – no challenge.

Instead, people censor themselves to avoid offending someone or hurting their feelings.

And sadly, some people choose to project their feelings and experiences onto others instead of taking ownership of their reactions, hot-buttons, and triggers.

I propose an alternative: brave space.

Because without challenge, without the freedom to be who we are and to have our own opinions and experiences, we lose creativity. We lose the inspirational, innovative fire that comes when people’s rough edges rub up against each other and cast sparks.

In brave space we can freely, yet considerately, share our thoughts and describe our experience.

In brave space we have the option to explore ourselves and the world around us. We can have passionate, constructive debate and disagreement, broaden our horizons, see new perspectives, and maybe even create ideas and solutions that are far better than any of us could develop within the careful confines of “safe space.”

Let me be very clear.

There is a time and place for very safe space. Anyone in treatment for trauma, or seeking professional help with emotional or psychological distress, must have safe space in which to process and understand their experience.

And there is no excuse, in any space, for ad hominem attacks – attacks on who someone is, on their personality, values, ethics, judgment, and so forth. The only valid subjects for debate are the ideas themselves, the facts themselves, and the specific topic.

We all need both

I propose that we all need both safe space … and brave space. We all need to feel the comfort of safe space, and we all need, whether we like it or not, the challenge of brave space.

Especially in today’s polarizing, changing, upheaving, emotional world.