Archive February 2019

Trigger Me–I Dare You (Pt. 2)

The Politics of Triggers

“Trigger Warning” has become a common expression in modern media. A trigger warning is simply a warning that what comes next might cause someone who suffers from prior trauma to remember or relive their experience. On the face of it, it is a sensitive and welcome acknowledgement that painful conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are real and prevalent.

However, the use of such warnings and the thought process behind it have become part of the country’s divisive political discussion. The extreme elements of one faction seem bent on bludgeoning the other side into submission by placing nearly every normal human behavior in the category of a “trigger.” For this group of people, saying a pronoun, asking for a date, opening the door for someone, wearing a certain hat, flying a flag, or singing a Christmas song have all become triggers that any caring human being should refrain from doing.

Meanwhile, extremists from the other political faction are attempting to shame the “overly sensitive” victims of trauma and violence by calling them names like “snowflake,” hinting at their extreme fragility. Rhetoric from this group commonly minimizes and denies what may be real, debilitating trauma felt by many innocent people.  

Both sides have valid points, and both sides should work to reign in their most extreme elements. Yes, it is true that anything–literally anything can become a trigger to someone who has experienced trauma. Society should be sensitive to this. But it is not productive or sane to ban benign human behavior in an attempt to guarantee no one will ever be triggered.

Some speech and behaviors, in and of themselves, are violent, degrading and inappropriate. Common sense and conscience tell us what is included in this category. Members of a civilized society have an obligation to avoid such expressions. But all other speech and behaviors, even those that can be triggering, should be processed internally by those who feel inclined to be offended or triggered. It is incumbent on the offended person to learn coping skills. Any other configuration of accountability could be destructive in our society.  

Look for Part 3 in this series: “Triggers are Opportunities.” If you have experienced triggers in your life, learn how to take advantage of them to bring more growth and healing.       

Why Do the Chinese Butt in Line?

My wife and I recently stood in line at an American-style fast-food burger shop in Beijing. When it was finally our turn, we reached for the laminated menu card near the cash register and started looking at the menu options. Out of nowhere, a young man pushed forward, grabbed the menu out of our hands, and started giving his order to the cashier. That’s when I reached over, quickly slipped the card out of his hands and blocked his view of the cashier with my body while we proceeded to order.  

This wasn’t the first time we had encountered this kind of behavior during our stay in China. In fact, over the 18 months since arriving in Beijing from America, we’ve seen it nearly every day in various situations and venues–from train ticket queues to subways to grocery stores to airplanes. Everywhere we’ve turned, we’ve noticed locals who do not seem to accept or honor the concept of “wait your turn.”

We enjoy talking about cultural differences with our Chinese friends. One friend, a medical doctor, heard me lament about this encounter. He thought for a moment, then proposed a possible explanation. Recent research into an emerging field called “epigenetics” indicates that animals and human beings may pass along ancestral memories via their genes. In short, our behaviors, attitudes and preferences may be greatly influenced by environmental factors suffered by our ancestors. He postulated that trauma from serious famine in China’s past may now be to blame for an unreasonable feeling of urgency, pushing a person to skip ahead of others in line to be the first served.

I believe that whatever experiences we’ve had, or whatever traumas our progenitors may have suffered, we do have the ability and responsibility to overcome our own programming to act in ways socially acceptable in the current environment. We cannot blame our genes for bad behavior. However, the doctor’s explanation has caused me to re-think my own responses to these behaviors. Instead of reacting with irritation, I am now more likely to feel compassion for those whose genes might nudge them to move ahead of me in line. If echoes of China’s past whisper to the person behind me that he is starving, I may see his behavior differently and choose to respond accordingly.