It's only fair to warn you at the outset that this post may trigger... something or other. I'm not sure why trigger warnings have provoked such an intense response, but it's worth acknowledging that they have. If you don't think you can handle reading about trigger warnings, feel free to skip this post. ;)
But now that I've warned you, I'm going to go right ahead and talk about them, because the point of trigger warnings isn't to avoid talking about painful subjects, but to talk about them with courtesy and intentionality.
The phrase "trigger warning" was popularized in those corners of the blogosphere where trauma survivors gather together to process. Those blogs exist precisely because it's important to talk about trauma, because you can't really heal if you always avoid the painful subjects.
Handling intense emotions is a learned skill, though, and sometimes it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Moreover, it takes the right kind of practice, and that's why trigger warnings matter.
As my wise flute teacher told me, and as I tell my own students now, practice doesn't actually make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Practicing scales at breakneck speed with sloppy technique does more harm than good. It's practicing, yes, but it's practicing playing badly.
In the same way, exposure to triggers can be an important part of recovery, but it's only helpful if we're prepared to practice well.
If you warn us first, then we can use it as an opportunity to practice all the awesome skills we learned in therapy. But you aren't doing us any favors by blindsiding us with unexpectedly graphic material, because without a warning, we might end up simply drowning in our memories all over again, or we might end up practicing whatever destructive coping mechanisms come automatically.
We don't need to avoid our pain, we need to channel it in productive and life-giving directions. We need to talk about hard things, and we need to read the great books that hurt. But we need to do it carefully, intentionally, and at the right time.
Which means we need trigger warnings.
It doesn't have to be disruptive. I remember my professors doing this sort of thing automatically, not because of any policy, but because they genuinely cared about their students. Far from sabotaging our education, their compassion helped us feel safe enough to engage with the material on a rigorous level.
A trigger warning policy is a poor substitute for that kind of real concern, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Some say, without exception, that weasel
words are unambiguously bad.
This is somewhat like painter taking care to keep his easel
free of nuanced color. It makes me sad.
I won't call them the writers of the green
book, since it seems likely they'd prefer
pure blue or yellow. Fair enough. I've seen
little lovelier than daffodils and sky, yet there were
always in such scenes some subtler hues.
On this, I will not equivocate or hedge.
I use weasel words, and will defend much of their use.
Regardless of who does it, it's a travesty to wedge
the dappled truth into some simple view
without a word of warning when you do.
The pigeons in the parking lot
Feast on greasy taco wrappers.
Their feathers glow with as many rainbows
As the swirls of oil puddling beneath
The rattletrap truck. Under the swingset,
The puddles are made of good clean mud:
A suitable habitat for algae, mosquito larvae,
And tadpoles. Most of the latter will die
When the rain dries, but we rescued a few
Hundred. Many of these will also die, much
To the relief of the stowaway mosquitos, if Noah
Keeps dropping his toys in the tank. His brothers
Hover above, calming the maelstrom.
We clean up after the bright-winged birds,
And continue to hope for a plague of frogs.
The bayou is strewn with black-eyed Susans, Queen
Anne's lace, Whopper wrappers, and the feathers
Of several anonymous birds. An ice-cream truck
Meanders through the neighborhood, blaring, "Go
Tell Aunt Rhodie." Occasional honking suggests
That goose may not entirely be dead.
The eviscerated dove most certainly is.
Same goes for the grackle, but who is there
To hear the news, dear reader, except for you?
It's enough to make one wonder whether or not
It's worth the risk to open one's eyes to spring.
There are mountains underneath the Canyon.
We weren't as close to the center of the world as we felt.
Still, in the dark, as we would sleep, embedded
In layered rock, we shook when the earth trembled,
And when the walls lit up, and the birds sang, we would listen
For the news of which city had been reduced to rubble.
There inside the Canyon it was clear
That we are all connected. It is still so.
We all must stand or fall on this shared rock.
We drink of the waters that flow between us, and breathe
One another's breath. Our own small lights
Aid and obscure each other's view of heaven.
Love for fellow man must make us care
For the vast and hidden mountains that we share.