Trigger warning: <sarcasm> this article may irritate some people who lack empathy. </sarcasm>
Today in the comments section of a post of one of my favourite bloggers was a comment by one reader that they were irritated by trigger warnings that occasionally precede online articles. The reader made the comment that “[E]verybody needs to put on their big boy/big girl panties and deal with it“. This to me seems to be very inconsiderate, lacking in empathy, and downright harmful. It
triggered prompted me into composing this article. Let me elaborate.
Personally, I approve of trigger warnings. They are not there for the benefit of the typical reader/viewer. They are there for the benefit the reader/viewer whose circumstances are less than typical.
Many people struggle with life for a variety of reasons, beit temporary, medium term or for their entire life. Some people will, from time to time encounter that proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back causing anguish, despair, a breakdown, a relapse, or even contemplating whether or not life is worth the struggle. I cannot know the circumstances of my readers so I shouldn’t presume that none of them are facing difficulties that are stretching them to breaking point. I would not want to be knowingly responsible for loading them up with that proverbial straw, at least without giving them the opportunity to decline it. I’ll attempt an analogy.
Imagine you come across a cafe you haven’t seen before and decide to go in for a Flat White (or whatever your favourite hot beverage is). You’re about to take your first sip when there’s an extremely loud bang that startles you and you spill some coffee onto your lap. After you recover you notice no one else in the cafe has reacted as you did. It turns out this particular cafe fires a cannon on the hour throughout the business day, and regulars are aware of this. On the other hand you weren’t. If you had been warned before purchasing your coffee, you would have been forewarned and could have chosen whether to stay or go elsewhere.
Which would be more reasonable: (a) to provide a warning at the entrance, or on the drinks menu on the wall that a cannon is fired on the hour, or (b) to be told that you need to put on your big boy/big girl panties and deal with it when you complain that the cannon fire caused you to spill your coffee?
What triggers me about comments such as “deal with it” is that it’s a situation I find myself in regularly. I’m autistic and my ability to communicate in a way that non-autistics demand is not always successful. I can communicate perfectly well – with other autistics or with people who are prepared to meet me part way. Communication is a two way street, yet I, and other autistics, must bend over backwards to conform to the confusing, chaotic and illogical communication style of non-autistic people. All. The. Time.
It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and exhausting, and frequently in social situations I find it necessary to escape, at least temporarily, to avoid shutting down. Such escapes are often considered rude, anti-social, inconsiderate or arrogant, and when I explain why it’s necessary I’m informed that no one else has a problem and I need to learn to “deal with it”. Why is it that they don’t ever need to learn to “deal with it” – the fact that I need to take frequent breaks during social activity?
Seldom, if ever, is there an attempt by neurotypicals to make any accommodation for the needs of autistics. Who’s lacking empathy? According to popular mythology, including much of the medical profession, autistic people lack empathy. I would argue no more so than non-autistic people do. In fact there is a growing body of evidence that suggests autistics may actually be highly empathetic, but expressed in a way non-autistic people can’t even recognise, let alone understand.
When needs are not met, people suffer. If you are irritated when empathetic people try to accommodate the needs of others by way of trigger warnings, you’ll not get any sympathy from me.