I recently eavesdropped on an Internet conversation about “trigger alerts,” which took a side turn into whether baby boomers or younger generations had a harder time when growing up. In this discussion, baby boomers maintained that, as youth, we didn’t need to be alerted when something painful was about to be discussed in a classroom or on a TV show, and that the new generation was being coddled by being warned ahead of time that the lecturer or movie had material—about rape or violence, for example—that might hurt or offend. Instead of turning away from offensive or scary material, the baby boomers argued, we need to confront our fears, not avoid them.
As an older baby boomer, this rang true, until I started reading comments from younger women. They talked about being raped—a word I hardly knew when I was in high school—and pointed out that they had grown up with the threat of school shootings, and the subsequent preventive measures, like lock-down drills, that promoted constant fear and anxiety.
We baby boomers had our own school drills, like crawling under the desks to practice what we would do if the Soviet Union launched nuclear warheads at the U.S., something that seemed very possible during the Cold War when both countries were building nuclear arsenals that threatened the destruction of the whole planet, otherwise known as MAD—mutually assured destruction.
But we were fighting a force that was outside of our daily world—an evil country on the other side of the world–not a fellow classmate who brought his gun to school, or a mentally ill neighbor who wanted to kill schoolchildren. We were united against a common enemy and not wondering if the kid next to us in class had a gun in his pack.
There was a sense, at least during the Cold War and certainly during the Cuban missile crisis, that we were all in it together: it was us versus the Soviets. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Vietnam war and other political conflicts started turning neighbor against neighbor, children against parents. But before then, in what seems the now idyllic 1950s and 1960s of my childhood, people basically trusted each other. In our suburban neighborhood, with big families, everyone knew each other. If I needed help, I could walk into almost any house on the block and find an adult who knew me, knew my parents, and/or my siblings.
I don’t think that’s true anymore, even though I live in a city where people actively work to create a sense of community. In Boulder, people go out of their way to help the homeless, and the local government and community groups make real efforts to ensure that people who might otherwise be on the margins of society—LGBT, other races besides white, the disabled—are included. Many derisively refer to this as the “Boulder bubble,” as if we’ve insulated ourselves against the cruelty and indifference of the rest of the world.
But that bubble was destroyed this week when a gunman came into our community and gunned down 10 people in a grocery store. Three of the victims were in the 20s, their lives just starting out. No wonder young people suffer from anxiety; no wonder younger people, even children, are committing suicide—another concept I wasn’t familiar with as a child. When you can’t go into a grocery store or movie theater or school without worrying if someone wants to hurt or kill you, life can be unbearable.
At least my generation grew up with a sense of community. I was part of a big family, not just siblings, but cousins, aunts and uncles who regularly got together. I had some innate sense that I belonged in the world, that I was part of a larger group. If we have any community now in this country, it’s being slowly torn apart—by distrust, lies, polarization and the kind of violence I witnessed here Monday.
In this new world, we’re going to need more than trigger alerts to survive.
Photo courtesy of Reed Glenn
Thanks for this, Kathy. Like you, I’ve been dismissive—in my case, even contemptuous—of the “trigger alerts” movement. You’ve helped me rethink my position.
Jennifer, I’m still not convinced that we need them all the time, but I’m more sensitive now to why some people might need them.
Every time someone I love dies, my body goes into high alert and I carry fear everywhere I go: Who will be next? One summer, three uncles died, one a month. I jumped every time the phone rang: Who is dead now? I had never heard the term “trigger alert” until your post, Kath. I would appreciate a few of those. For the 4 years that The Previous Guy was in office, my wife was my trigger alert when we would watch the news, and at the first glimpse of his face or hair, the first word out of his mouth, she would press the mute button–because we could not stand to take his toxicity into our bodies. Not. One. More. Time. The only place I could stand to see his face was in parody on the cover of the New Yorker.
I don’t know how anyone can go out into the world today without fear, especially young people who have grown up with the threat of violence in their classrooms. My youngest grandkids were babies and living in Littleton just 2 blocks from Columbine high school when that shooting happened. My heart hurts for them and for all of our children and grandchildren. I’ll be 76 this year, my life is winding down, but they have years yet to navigate a world filled with threat, to build a life, to raise their own children.
The mass shooting in Boulder jarred my world here in Sacramento because we are all connected, we are all collectively still in grief over the 9-11 attacks and every damned shooting and every act of violence by the police or that kid who sits next to your grandchild in chem class.
Thank you for your post, Kath. My heart is broken for our country, for our neighborhoods, and mostly for our young people.
Thanks, Verna, for sharing your stories and your own grief. Yes, I still need a trigger alert for the Previous Guy. Every time I heard the phrase “The president announced today,” I have an immediate recoil before I realize who the president is. And now I will always feel anxious walking into a grocery store. But mostly I feel anguish for the grocery store workers who will have to face these daily fears. I think the only thing to do is treat them with respect and then do whatever we can for the younger generation.
I’ve been critical — perhaps unfairly so — of “snowflakes” in college. I think college is a place where you are supposed to grow up, learn to deal with reality, stand on your own two feet, hear diverse ideas, etc. But I’ve been appalled at what my two teenage grandkids have had to grow up with. Active shooter drills. Classmates with guns. Threats of bullying and rape. Suicides among friends.
As you described so well, we (I’m 77) only had to worry about nukes from the Soviet Union (and where I grew up — tornadoes). The ’50s were idyllic; I’ve always thought so. My dad was Marcus Welby. My family was Father Knows Best. My high school years were Happy Days. Etc.
I can scarcely believe the world we live in today.
Indeed. Who would have thought we would fondly look back at our childhood where we “only” had to deal with the threat of nuclear war?
I’ve read all your comments, and I can understand them and you. But I am the happy dweller of a peaceful country, where fire arms, as well as hunting knives, cannot be sold to the public in general. It is difficult to obtain a license and the procedure is long and goes through the police department. Usually only hunters apply. All guns must be registered and their owners remain under police scrutiny. We don’t feel that we are denied any right, we just feel secure.
I do not miss the old ways, on the contrary – life was very difficult for women, very limited (i’m 74). Women, specially married women, were kept back and restrained. At present, life is just different, with many wonderful things we never thought of when we were young women. I am a retired lawyer, and life is still opening up to me.
You are lucky to live in Portugal, where you don’t have to fear gun violence, and I’m glad to hear that life is getting better for women in your country. It’s very difficult here to deal with all the violence, but right now I’m feeling hopeless that anything will change. Thank you for writing.
Thank YOU, Kathy! Your articles are very well written and provide food for thought, they are a pleasure to read.