Proximity

How much of it do we allow?

Leanardo Dicaprio won the Golden globe award for best actor in Jan 2016; he also became (in) famous in the internet for an awkward incident that happened during the awards ceremony.  Startled and somewhat annoyed when Lady Gaga squeezed past him on her way to collect her award for best actress, he rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows mockingly in one of his least guarded moments.  That odd moment was caught in the camera and became ‘trending’.  No one wants to be intruded into their personal space all of a sudden, isn’t it?

You may notice a similar behaviour in a lift.  If you are the 4th person to enter a lift which already has 3 strangers in it, have you noticed that the other three quickly move towards the 3 corners and start staring at the flooring or at the changing floor numbers on the overhead display in an attempt to avoid physical or eye contact?  This is not done consciously.  Could it be because they want to save their personal space and not intrude into others’ space?  You too stand with hands folded in the front in an attempt to use minimal space!

Many avoid using a lift; not only for fitness reasons but also because they feel claustrophobic inside a lift!  My son feels curtailed and boxed when his cot is placed against one of the walls; he sleeps better when it is placed in the center of the room with some moving space around the cot.  Does the arrangement of furniture have an impact on our behaviour?  Yes I think.  We feel formal in a class room that is designed with a stage for the teacher and the theatre style seating for the students.  The same set of students when placed in a circular seating style with no stage for the teacher tend to feel emotionally closer to the teacher; they may even learn better as in a Montessori system.  Distance and height is likely to be beneficial in situations where we clearly want to maintain authority like the judge’s seat in a court room or the head table in a conference room.  A small tweak in the arrangement of furniture is likely to bring in the desired change in people’s behaviour.

I feel a little annoyed when my ‘regular’ place is taken by someone else, during the Sunday morning growth sessions (infinipath) with Mahatria.  Despite other seats which I can occupy comfortably that does not stop me from feeling displaced from my space.  It takes a few moments for me to settle down in the new place.  Does this mean I am territorial claiming ‘my space’?  May be yes.  Understanding this helps me to keep peace with myself and hopefully with others in the environment.

“Is the aisle seat available?” is the common request we ask at the check-in counter before air travel.  Majority of us prefer aisle and the next best is the window seat.  We wish to have at least one side free from rubbing elbows against another co-passenger.

How much of proximity do we allow?  That depends on the relationship that we are sharing with the other.  ‘Proxemics’ is the study of space and how we use it, how it makes us feel more or less comfortable, and how we arrange objects and ourselves in relation to space.  Edward T. Hall, anthropologist first coined the term, ‘Proxemics’ in the early 1960s.  He goes on to say that this space between one another is influenced by the culture of the place we belong to.

When you land in Chennai airport (or in any of our Indian city for that matter) after staying abroad for a few weeks, you suddenly feel that you are swimming in a sea of people and people are crowding around you too much.  Culturally in India (also in most of the Asian countries) we stay close to each other; we do not keep too much physical distance between one another even while standing in a queue or travelling in a public transport.  That is not the case in the western world; their culture is to keep an arm’s distance and our culture is to stay close.  Be a roman when you are in Rome!

Anyways, an awareness of ‘Proxemics’ will help us to develop graceful relationships.

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