Trigger Warnings and Micro-aggressions

*This post may (probably does) contain material that may be emotionally disturbing. Be advised

Trigger warnings and micro-aggressions are the latest craze in our U.S. society (see here for a review from the Atlantic). Briefly, professors are now being criticized for assigning materials or presenting information that may trigger undesired emotional responses in the student. Whatever the intentions of the originally conceived warnings, this concept has morphed to include any idea that is in opposition to already held ideologies or information that is not consistent with a held (indoctrinated) view.  Professors are being advised not to present information that challenges or places a student in a discomfortable position.

I am a scholar at heart. I enjoy exploring concepts in order to have stronger confidence in practice. I refuse to accept something because 1) it has always been known as such, 2) someone told me it is so, 3) it is based on dominant ideology, 4) a feeling in the gut, or 5) an authority or government tells me it is so. Perhaps we should add revisionist history and post-modernist interpretivism to this list as well. I can accept conclusions based on deep inquiry, challenging of assumptions, and social scientific evidence. None of these forms guarantee truth or knowledge, but we hold more confidence in ideas that have been significantly challenged and continue to “ring true”. This would constitute critical thinking. And what capitalism and democracy needs more than anything else is the development of critical thinkers, not critics and activists.

I do not think we are in a knowledge-based environment anymore (in four separate semesters, I have had students explicitly state to me that they should be excused for not knowing something that has happened before they were born – think about that for a minute – these are students who are no older than 21). I fear an upcoming dark ages in knowledge, supplanted (again) by ideology and belief. With the internet, we are able to isolate ourselves more than ever before to only hear ideas consistent with our desired outcome. Now, our universities are insisting that students should not challenged in fear of emotional distress. We learn by seeking to expand our perspectives. Learning occurs when we are uncertain in our understanding and belief (the motivation to learn something new is the discomfort of not knowing or understanding something). Now, students are learning “critical thinking” in a safe environment zone that discourages arguments that may be uncomfortable, diverse, or in contrast to initial positions. Failure is no longer a learning opportunity, but a feature to be eliminated from the experience of our youth and developmental ages.

What does this mean for the Impact Capitalist? Essentially, finding critical thinkers, learners, and diverse ideas becomes more challenging. If you come across one of these individuals, they will probably not just follow orders because you said so. They will expect an explanation of the logic behind actions. But these people are gems. They will help you navigate complex environments, drive change initiatives, and become leaders in impact and profit.

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