Thursday, June 18, 2015

Guest Post: Je Suis Charlie Ou Non (A Reflection on Trigger Warnings)

In the five months since the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, popular opinion has swung back and forth in support of and against the ideas the satirical newspaper supported. For publishing a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad, five people died and 11 were wounded.

Now, there is an argument to be made that publishing images that rise to the level of blasphemy for Muslims is beyond the pale. Religion is one area that people more readily accept censorship regarding. There’s a sense that offending someone about their faith must be avoided above everything else.

I find that idea almost repugnant. Well, maybe repugnant is harsh. But, I think there’s something wrong with the idea of walking on eggshells to protect someone’s feelings about their religion. Religion as a source of strength—that’s an idea I can get behind. A strong, well-developed faith should be able to handle mockery, especially from an outsider.

At the same time, the idea that there are no limits to free speech is rapidly becoming part of the past. With trigger warnings becoming de rigeur, we no longer need the government to censor us, as we do it willingly out of empathy.

I really struggled with trigger warnings for a long time. Still do, in a lot of cases. People overuse them, rather than relying on the reader’s ability to infer content from an article’s title. I do still skip them when a title makes them redundant. But, I choose to use them more often than I once thought was necessary.

Because it’s a choice and an action we take on for ourselves, trigger warnings are perhaps the least offensive form of censorship I can imagine. It matters, the desire to prevent harm where we can, especially online when so many use the protection it offers to be the worst versions of themselves.

We post trigger warnings out of our human compassion and wish to avoid further triggering those who have suffered trauma. I’m all in favor of that, especially when titles of articles give no hint about the content to come. So, balance, as in so many other aspects of life, is the key. We must speak and allow others to speak, even when speech offends. But, kindness is the line we must maintain, keeping our humanity through kindness and awareness of others’ triggers.

Bookgrrl is a geek, gamer, lifelong reader and writer. She shares her thoughts on books at

Image: Nicolas Raymond

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a fan of using trigger warnings, mainly because *everything* can be a trigger for someone. Even a nice story about Mother's Day can be deeply upsetting to someone who had a bad mother, whose mother is dead, or can't become a mother. I feel like trigger warnings prioritize certain types of pain and certain types of trauma over others.