Recent political events have caused many to call for the creation of “safe spaces” – sanctuaries where one can hide from the current happenings of the world. Some universities have designated certain places on campus for people to flee from the events that disturb them.
In most cases, these events are ones in which people could make a change or act on their opinions like, for example, the election process or social issues. When things do not go their way, however, they turn to moping.
Granted, there are situations over which one does not have control, such as a family death or serious medical diagnosis, which do merit a need to flee from one’s overwhelming current situation and to recover one’s perspective. There are times, too, when people need to retreat from the world and contemplate their lives. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus went off alone to pray. Henry David Thoreau withdrew to write “Walden,” highlighting the benefit of retreating into nature, a theme of many transcendentalists.
Neither Christ nor Thoreau, however, were trying to run from their problems.
But if the event from which one is hiding is something that he can change, then he ought not hide from it. The situation will not change and he will not grow, unless he faces the uncomfortable times of life.
Our culture has reduced the self to the egotistical and the sensual, and has reduced fulfillment to the immediate gratification. As a result, whenever someone is faced with something displeasing or painful, he is unable to cope because he is not trained to use his mind, but rather to follow his emotions.
On the contrary, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said:
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
We were not made to become complacent, but to be challenged.
Greatness lies in facing one’s challenges, whether or not one succeeds. As they say, “no pain, no gain.”
Instead of safe spaces, we need provocative places, where one is asked to rethink his current position in life. Such situations can include encountering people of different cultures, political associations or religious beliefs, or pursuing a difficult job or task. Whether such places and situations make one change or reaffirm where one already is, they will make one stronger.
Community has the advantage of offering both a place of retreat and of challenge. As Plato demonstrates in the Socratic dialogues, in a community, one is challenged to rethink his perspective, grow in virtue and form new solutions to the problems of the world. The University of Dallas has that balance between a provocative place and a safe space. Everyone here is challenged to broaden his scope of the world and himself through open dialogue. There are places, too, where one can find personal introspection through prayer, reflection, and community to find how they “can be the change they want to see in the world,” as Gandhi famously said.