[Éditorial de Louise-Maude Rioux Soucy] The best is sometimes the enemy of the good with trauma warnings

It is unthinkable to mold the public space to the satisfaction and needs of everyone. This does not prevent us from wanting to make it habitable for as many people as possible, as evidenced by the rise in favor of protective measures in areas as diverse as art, the media, health and education. But do we always do it right? Our extensive record of trauma warnings — those warnings that content might be deemed sensitive, irritating, or triggering upsetting reactions — says no. Given their propensity to multiply in the public square, this should be of great concern to us.

As scientific research progresses, we discover that we do not master the mechanics of these tools born of the best of wills, that of taking care of traumatized affects. However, the meta-analyses examined in fine detail by reporter Catherine Lalonde show that trauma warnings miss their target. Without effect on the majority, the trigger warnings (or TW) have a negative effect on those we specifically want to protect by feeding their anxiety.

These conclusions have already begun to be taken over by the proponents of a world where imbalances are denied and weaknesses are rejected as a whole. But we must be wary of this, because imbalances and weaknesses do exist in our societies. That our institutions work to smooth them out is an ideal to be protected. They still have to do it with the right tools and in full knowledge of the facts. Which is far from certain, and which calls for a major project to improve them and invent new ones.

One of the interesting tracks explaining the failure of good faith of the TW is that they warn people of the painful reactions that they could feel without explaining to them how to reduce or avoid these reactions. It’s a bit like putting a bandage on a gaping wound. This ill-adapted and poorly dosed protective reflex pleads for increased and better targeted medical and psychosocial support for people who struggle daily with trauma.

That said, there is also reason to wonder about the confusion that traumatic warnings, and more broadly the prohibitions decreed under the guise of protection, create between the therapeutic space (in essence private and singular) and the artistic or educational spaces ( by nature public and collective). Thinking and experiencing the world hurts itself with ruts. The Academic Freedom Act in the university environment is based on a reflexive ideal freed from all obstacles.

It is also the first condition of the omnipotence of freedom of expression as of art. It will also be necessary to question the self-protection reflexes of institutions whose excessive caution may hide a desire to protect themselves from those they claim to want to spare.

One thing is certain, forcing the reconciliation of all these tensions in the same place can easily lead to controversy, even to slippage, as evidenced by two recent examples. The first with the blacklisting of the novel The boy with upside-down feet, by François Blais, considered unjustified by the greatest number (we are some), the Minister of Health having himself admitted that Public Health had gone “too far” in its intervention with schools and libraries. The second with the stormy cancellation of the conference of the controversial human rights professor Robert Wintemute by McGill University, after activists accusing him of transphobic speech demanded it.

In hollow, this challenges us on an upward trend, that of the deliberate avoidance of potentially anxiety-provoking news confirmed in the report of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. If this is worrying, it is because discomfort often gives rise to resilience, reminds psychologist Pascale Brillon. Thus, exposing ourselves to contrary opinions or revolting works and facts contributes to “maximizing our understanding” of the world, in addition to “increasing our emotional and cognitive maturity”, useful for “motivating us to get involved so that certain traumas, individual or social, and certain appalling injustices, are never repeated”.

Because that’s what it’s all about: ensuring that the collective gains in maturity without the singular losing out. Thinkers and decision-makers have a duty to venture further along this thin thread so that everyone can find refuge and comfort in a cocoon to their measure, without it encroaching on those of others or becoming so tight that it prevents clamor. of the world to get to its center.

However, the lack of a solid scientific basis for reflecting correctly and calmly on all these questions is serious. It is imperative to equip the art, knowledge and health communities with solid and varied evidence to avoid swords in the water and sterile heartbreaks around issues as sensitive as that of safe spaces. and inclusive.

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