Teaching An Entire Nation To Respect Boundaries

I have a “normal” job these days but I used to work as a prevention specialist.  I was one of hundreds of people throughout the country that trained young people to prevent sexual assault.  Some may think these jobs to be unnecessary but that’s far from the case when you realize just how unpracticed young people generally are in deciphering the personal boundaries of others and ensuring that they have consent when they want to cross them.  It’s just not a skill set that many people are taught beyond trial and error.  In my experience, young people welcome the chance for open conversation when given the opportunity to release their anxieties and fears when it comes to negotiating the personal space of others.

It is interesting to look back on the conversations that I’ve had from the vantage point of the current COVID-19 crisis.  These conversations about appropriate contact take on a different feel in a world where all physical contact is discouraged.  Those same lessons that my anti-violence colleagues and I brought to classrooms are now being pondered nationally, albeit in a different context.  The entire country has now been forced to have a conversation about appropriate behavior once you recognize that your body can harm others.

As is to be expected in such a large nation, we do not have a consensus on the matter.  The majority of the country seems to have accepted that they have a responsibility to refrain from contact with others if there is potential for harm to others, even if it means restricting our own freedoms and wants.  But there is a sizeable contingent of folks who strongly believe that restricting personal liberties is an overreach.

I accept that comparing discussion of how to prevent sexual violence and how to prevent a worldwide pandemic is not a perfect comparison.  The discussion around COVID-19 at least proves that young adults are not alone in their inability to reach common ground on the appropriate balance between personal freedoms and respect for others.  I myself happen to believe that restricting freedoms for the health of others is just a requirement for a civil and healthy society but I know that there are those who would disagree intensely.  We have to keep having important but contentious conversations about the appropriate balancing of our own needs with that of others and I would think that the entire country should understand that right now.

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