Safer Space Guidelines
Safer Space Guidelines or Ways of Being are a way to structure a group discussion that encourages people to share openly and treat one another with respect. Some group guidelines we've found to be helpful include:
What's said here stays here. Sometimes this means that after the group, every thing that was said is never repeated. Sometimes this means that you can repeat things that people said without saying who said them. Usually we ask at the beginning of each discussion what approach people want to take for confidentiality. Confidentiality also can mean that you don't reveal who was at the discussion to people who weren't there.
- Don't name names.
Don't use the names of people in any stories you tell during the discussion. Also, don't give too much identifying information.
- Step up, step back.
If there are ten people at the discussion, you should take up 1/10th of the talking time. If you're someone who tends to talk less, try to push yourself to say more if you can. If you're someone who tends to talk more, try to leave more space so that quieter people have plenty of space to speak.
- Really listen.
Don't just think about what you're going to say next when someone else is talking. Which leads to our next guideline...
- Leave room for silence.
If you aren't thinking about what you want to say while other people are talking, you're going to need some silent time to collect your thoughts and figure out what you want to say. And having silence between speaking helps create a more peaceful, reflective conversation.
- Speak from your own experience.
Use "I statements," as in, "When I am sad, it's hard for me to talk about my feelings" as opposed to, "You know when you're sad, it's hard to talk about your feelings" (in the sense of the "general" you). Use language that acknowledges that not everyone experiences things the same way that you do.
If someone says something that feels weird or hurtful to you, please speak up! And approach it in a gentle, we're-all-in-this-together type of way, when appropriate. If you want to, you can say "ouch" in order to start this dialogue. Having that pre-decided phrasing can help if you don't know exactly how to articulate why you felt uncomfortable with what was said. If the person wants to, they can say "oops" to acknowledge that they didn't want to hurt you with what they said. Then you can figure out if it was just a miscommunication, or something to explore more deeply.
- Assume best intentions.
When someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, it can be helpful to start by considering the possibility that they are coming from a place of trying to be their best self and offer constructive things into the world. Maybe the thing they just said came out wrong, or maybe they're unaware of how it could be harmful. Or maybe they meant something totally different than what you thought they were saying. While these optimistic possibilities are not always going to be the case, it is often helpful to consider them, and give the person a chance to explain before responding with anger, aggression, judgment, etc. At the same time, it is also important to be careful with the trust that we choose to put in people, for the sake of protecting ourselves (i.e. our physical and emotional well being).
- Real talk.
We are here to have the type of discussion that we don't typically have in our every day lives! We want to go deep with exploring ideas and feelings together. Let's do our best not to gloss over the difficult stuff. If something is scary to talk about, it's likely something that needs to be talked about. It's okay to disagree and/or offend each other (and then hopefully work it out).
- Don't leave without feeling heard.
We want this discussion to be meaningful for everyone involved! If you feel like you aren't being heard, please let us know. We really want to hear your perspective. Of course, if you really feel unsafe (emotionally, physically, or otherwise) speaking up, you are not obligated to. But we are trying to make this a space where you will feel safe speaking up.
- Be gentle.
And kind. And respectful. :)
- Don't police people's language.
Yes, say when someone's word choice hurts you, or hurts a group of people that you're not a part of. But it's okay that not everyone knows all of the most current respectful phrasings for things. Language is always changing, and sometimes people want to be respectful but don't know what words are considered respectful right now. Being harsh when people accidentally use outdated or offensive language can make an activist community less accessible to newcomers, especially those with less education or from a lower socioeconomic class.