Over the last few months, I’ve accidentally ended up accumulating an assortment of KidsOfToday© within my cybersocial circle. It was genuinely an accident; I didn’t set out to pick up random infants to experiment upon. I just bumbled around, as I do, occasionally bumping into people I think are cool. After repeated interactions, it turned out that some of those cool people were unseemingly young. By that point I’d gotten to like them, so I wasn’t keen to ostracise them solely because of their age. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. They were just born too late. They’re working at getting older every day, so there’s still hope for them. So I’m keeping them around, letting them scamper all over my newsfeed full of whatever-it-is KidsOfToday© get hyped up on (these days, it seems to be a combination of bowel-clenching terror and existential uncertainty).
It turns out that there are several advantages to having a mixed-age social group. First and foremost, it’s significantly cut down on the amount of moaning I’m subjected to. Millennials are often pegged down as whiners, forever complaining that things aren’t as they ought to be while doing nothing to change them. Yet most of the whining I’ve been exposed to is by older people, who’re making a hobby out of complaining about Millennials complaining. Whining about whiners is kinda meta, I guess, but I mostly find it vexing.
And as per having an effect on things, evidence suggests that if most of your sentences start with variations on the theme of “the problems with people like you is…”, those sentences will fall on deaf ears, or no ears at all. The vast majority of the people you’re talking at won’t make time to listen to you. There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re talking to yourself, or to those who already agree with you.
There’s another advantage to keeping KidsOfToday© around. When something new and exciting comes up, like a new fandango term, I can go “yo, friendly infant: what is this thing that everyone’s on about?” And, without fail, I get a useful answer.
Yes, I know how to ride the Google Machine. I could do my own research. But that would often mean wading through a whole sea of new fandango terms, or critically analyzing a ream of articles to find out if there’s actually any truth hidden behind the clickbait. It’s not just that I’m lazy, or unmotivated, although those are definitely factors. It just seems more sensible to go straight to the source. For instance, if I want to know what the hell is going on in universities these days, I could read articles by people who left education sometime in the last century, like me… or I could have a chat with some of my friends who are still studying, have recently graduated, or are teaching.
There’s another advantage to this. I have a congenital aversion to cryptic, grandiloquent neologisms; a.k.a., I don’t like new big words I don’t understand. My friends are aware of this, so they automatically translate the necessary information into AnnaSpeak: short words & sentences. They’re nice people, and they don’t seem to mind doing this kind of outreach work. In fact, they seem to relish opening my eyes to all these new, wonderful things… until I burst their bubble, because the way my brain processes information is by connecting it to existing information. Turns out that the vast majority of the time their Brand New Thing is actually A Very Old Thing With A New Fancy Label.
Take “ableist language”. I was told I needed to consider the issue, and I couldn’t be bothered to research it, so I asked my friend P about it. P explained what it was and gave me a bunch of examples. Turns out that its practical application boils down to avoiding the use of words that would have gotten me a clipped ear from my grandma. Now, my grandma was born in 1901 and never had any truck whatsoever with stuff like “equality,” but she was pretty damn hot on things like “having good manners” and “being considerate”. The final results, language-wise at least, are pretty much the same. It also turns out that avoiding that kind of language is not such an impassable barrier to communication. Frankly, if you can’t state your point without calling someone “stupid” or “crazy”, then your silence is probably not depriving the world of anything it desperately needs to hear.
The funniest conversation of this kind I’ve had to date has been one about “safe spaces”. I kept reading posts by older people bemoaning those feeble young kids with their safe spaces and their Play-Doh, and presenting them as sure proof that our civilisation is going to hell in a handbasket. I didn’t know what the hell they were on about, so I asked P, again.
Turns out that “safe spaces” are not, as the older people in question seem to believe, some kind of padded play room. Play-Doh is not generally involved. A”safe space” can be any kind of situation, be it a room or a forum or anywhere else, where a topic won’t be mentioned. Sometimes, when people are forced to interact, it’s just easier to get along when everyone agrees that certain issues won’t be discussed. It doesn’t stop the issues existing; it just parks them out of the way for a period.
“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like my grandma saying that we weren’t to discuss politics, religion, or football at the dinner table?”
“Not quite,” said X. Sometimes safe spaces are places where certain issues are discussed, but they cannot be attacked. Making something a safe space for X issue means that within that “space” people can’t shit on those issues.
“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like church?” My mom goes to church every Sunday, as do lots of other people. I don’t much agree with a lot of what is said there, but it’d be considered pretty poor form for me to stand up in the middle of the sermon and give a lengthy explanation as to why what’s being said makes no logical sense.
“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. People choose whether to attend church or not. But, for instance, university students don’t always get to decide whether they have to live in a dorm, or attend a lecture. Making the dorms safe spaces means that students are safe from threats, abuse, and discrimination while they’re under that roof.
“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like all those obligations towards guests? Yannow, like those you find in Greek and Roman and Viking and Celtic and Jewish and Hindu and probably all other kinds of traditions and mythology?” I live like that. Guests in my house are required to be civil to each other. They can disagree as hard as they like, but they cannot insult or injure anyone. Anyone who does will be shown the door. Is my house a safe space, then?
“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. The kind of topics that are normally included in safe space agreements tend to be controversial, and affect people personally. For instance, a LBGTQ group may want to meet and discuss LBGTQ issues without being drowned out by a chorus of people telling the participants that they’re going to hell. In essence, some safe spaces allow persecuted minorities a breathing space, a chance to be; a chance to exist unchallenged, however temporarily.
“Oh,” I said to X. I didn’t know what else to say at that point, because I was busy imagining what it might be like to be an LBGTQ teen growing up in a community where LBGTQ issues are seen as so shocking that a significant proportion of people can’t even tolerate the thought of people discussing them in peace.
I mean, seriously: doesn’t the fact that some people object so strongly to those safe spaces existing, however small and out of their way they are, kinda prove that they are needed?