10 Suggestions on How to a Create Safe Space

"Safe Space" by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Safe Space” by nakedpastor David Hayward

10 Suggestions on How to Create Safe Spaces:

The comments section on my most popular post ever, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the Thug or the Theology (with 900 comments so far, and 73,000 views), has provoked me to draw this cartoon and write this post about creating safe spaces.

It is interesting to me that the Jones Driscoll post’s conversation is being called by some a “safe space”. I would never have considered nakedpastor a safe space because usually the conversations have been very fiery. A lot of people don’t want to comment out of fear of being argued down.

Because of that, and because of my passion for creating safe spaces for people, I launched The Lasting Supper a couple of years ago. I would call that a safe space. There are over 350 members and, for the most part, the space has been kept safe. There have been a few episodes where it has been threatened, but we always manage to come back to a safe space.

I want to give 10 suggestions on what I’ve learned about how to create a safe space:

  1. Diversity: From the very beginning, you have to allow for diversity. Recognize that the world of people is already actually diverse and must be allowed to be expressed in the space.
  2. Reflect: You must be aware of the diverse aspects of your own self, and not just the acceptable parts, but the ugly parts too. Otherwise you won’t be able to handle the offensive parts of others either. This takes years of self-analysis and honesty to develop. Having wise counselors, therapists and spiritual directors helps.
  3. Protect: The only gauge I use to moderate a conversation is if someone is saying something that really is hurtful to another. I’m not talking about perceived hurt, but something that everyone knows is hurtful. It takes time to learn the difference. When something hurtful is being done, you must step in with a gentle strength that ensures the other members that even though the safety of the space has been compromised, it is only temporary.
  4. Release: You cannot control the conversation. You cannot censor, censure or silence… unless hurt is being inflicted. If people understand that something they may say can be corrected, rebuked, or edited, then they will not share honestly.
  5. Strengthen: Your strength is not in your ability to steer a conversation or manage people. Your greatest strength is actually your ability to keep your hands of the wheel of a democratic process.
  6. Liberate: Let people be authentically themselves, but also encourage them as it goes along like any good friend would. We live in a very controlling world, and when we get the taste of freedom to be who we are in a supportive context, amazing things happen.
  7. Detach: Detach yourself from any desired result. If you have a goal in mind other than the safety of the space, then you are violating the members’ freedom to develop as they wish, as well as the freedom of the space to become what it may.
  8. Relinquish: If you have dreams of being a guru, relinquish them. If you’re in it for any glory at all, get out now. I learned pretty quickly at The Lasting Supper that the last thing people wanted was a guru or leader. Because this is one of the things many of them rejected when they questioned religion, its organizations and pushy leaders. They want to find their truth for themselves independently but with support.
  9. Humble: Humble yourself. Don’t imagine for a moment that you have created something then relish in it. Don’t believe you’ve achieved some kind of utopia. Even though a safe space can be incredibly delightful, it is also incredibly fragile. Anything can happen at any moment to threaten and even destroy it. I know this from personal experience. There’s no perfect community. There are only perfect moments.
  10. Give: Don’t be protective. Since I started The Lasting Supper, I’ve heard of other similar communities launching. In fact, I know of others who joined The Lasting Supper to learn how it was done, then went off to start their own. I’ve offered to help them, give them advice, and share any insights I might have so they can succeed because the issue isn’t my success or the success of The Lasting Supper, but the success of creating safe spaces for people. They are rare. Let’s create more!

There’s lots more I could share on this, but I figure this is a good start.

In closing, I’m often asked why I charge $7/ month or $75/ year for a membership in The Lasting Supper.

Here are three reasons:

  • I do this full time so remuneration is required.
  • It provides an effective barrier of access that successfully keeps trolls and predators out.
  • We exchange value for value. TLS is a wonderful place. These things cost.

I hope this helps.

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8 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    I imagine a few people already in the chairs saying “Come in, sure, it is safe”!
    Yet they are the ones to be cautious of.

    I am much, much better in person than on-line (probably as many folks are) — I am better at watching how I say things. Seeing the face, expressions and tones of my speaking partners help a lot. Because many times, I view debate as a chess game which explore the congruity and logic of anyone’s system. But really, few of us have real systems and when we say we don’t, we usually don’t. Real people use ideas very differently than much of Christianity wants us to belief.

    Beliefs are not what makes a person — they are merely secondary or tertiary or less.
    We use ideas to glue our lives together but lots of different nests can work very well.
    The holding up, is often what matters, not the material.
    (But then. lots of folks live in dangerous nests with dangerous holes — not to be too relativistic.)

    When I remember that analogy, I am gentler. Instead, I try to see the person’s life that is supported by the knotty ideas.
    Sorry, waxed philosophical.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    I imagine that a group like TLS would be difficult with those who speak too much, those who speak too little and everyone there for very different purposes. Unless, they all come there in search of a spiritual home or something.

    What kind of folks leave and don’t come back?
    What common e-mail complaints do you get about other members?

    The large the group gets, the more difficult, eh?
    Do you break up into sub-groups at times?

  3. There are all kinds in TLS… some who share a lot and some who don’t at all. I think most are looking for companionship, support, and resources. So most of us seem to understand that there is going to be a complexity of diversity expressed in the community. Those who leave are either those who aren’t online much and don’t use the site, those who discover they’re not crazy and that’s all they needed, those who get angry at others, those who believe they don’t fit, and finally those who are asked to (that’s only been 3 in its history). I hardly ever get private email complaints. Hardly at all. It’s quite a peaceful group. Right now anyway. And as it grows I do see it takes more of my time.

  4. Sabio Lantz says:

    Fascinating analysis, David. Thanx for sharing. Sort of as I expected, but you put it so well.
    I can’t imagine someone better running such a thing.
    I find it funny that you said that one group that leaves are “those who discover they’re not crazy “.
    Finding share suffering and shared frustrations with people you respect can be very freeing, eh?
    Again, cool analysis. Thanx

  5. Well… it’s not necessarily grief loves company. It’s more like many people are in church so long and are pretty much brainwashed that leaving the church is going to send them into dark depression, hopelessness, loneliness and eventually hell, and that this happens only occasionally to a few people. But when they connect with hundreds of others who are on the same path, they realize that they aren’t crazy, backslidden, or sinners at all, but actually intelligent, independent, courageous and strong. For some that’s enough.

  6. Sabio Lantz says:

    Cool. I never was one of those people — hard to imagine.
    I am glad there are others who can help them out.
    Once you put “God” on anything, it is ripe for abuse!

  7. I agree with that. For some reason religion makes the perfect culture for abuse.

  8. Sometimes a circle, as much as it asks for equality, shows that only those within it are equal.

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