THE BUFFER ZONE

No one likes anyone to move too close to give an uneasy feeling. This ‘buffer zone’ is like the ‘second skin’ hardwired into our DNA, and brain computes this buffer zone, writes Michael Graziano.  Brain computes the personal space largely unconsciously, depending upon the context. The size depends upon our social interactions; how we understand and feel about each other. So please don’t invade someone’s personal space, else, be ready to face the consequences.

The personal space functions like a predator. It acts like a ‘flight zone’. It helps to avoid unnecessary collisions in everyday life. It seems, dominant individuals have a larger personal space. It is, however, quite possible that ‘large personal space of dominant people’ is not due to the personal space but due to the willing distance people keep around them. Some people have very small ‘defensive bubble’. Respect boundaries of someone’s personal space, and don’t be too obsessed with it. Often you can’t avoid such space intrusions, for example, standing in a crowded lift. You have to find your ways to overcome the situation. The work of an anthropologist indicates that  “you’re actually enveloped by bubbles of four different sizes, each of which applies to a different set of potential interlopers.” The ‘intimate space’ is for family, pets and one’s closest friends. The ‘personal space’ is for friends and acquaintances. The ‘social space’ is for conducting routine social interactions with new acquaintances or total strangers. Then there is open to all ‘public space’. Interpersonal distance also varies across cultures. Members of collectivist countries prefer stronger interpersonal proximity compared with members of individualistic countries. Two persons with different personal spaces may face greater problem of space intrusion. An Indian may stand too close to someone without thinking much about interference. Indians don’t mind putting an arm around a stranger. We don’t find it awkward to stare at someone who is sitting quietly and eating in a restaurant. We don’t mind, not only reading other’s mind, reading other’s emails, if there is a possibility. We are known for giving unsolicited expert advice. We don’t mind talking too loudly even when we are talking to someone who has already invaded our buffer zone. We generally are not aware that space can cause discomfort. We Indians are noticed more by our neighbours, taking advantage of the nearness. Rank strangers will put an arm around you when they want to read the newspaper over your shoulder. The chaps you’ve never spoken to in your colony, will come and smear your faces on Holi. Mohalla aunties will police your timings, the uncle you’re meeting for the first time on the train will ask for your pay package, distant relatives will worry about your relationship with near and dear ones. We think it’s our business to stick our noses in everyone’s business. We don’t mind touching someone without his apparent consent. We don’t mind leaning on someone in a space that still has space to stand on your own. We don’t mind reading else’s newspaper without his permission. We don’t mind entering a private space without knocking the door. We don’t mind sharing our tiffin even if that is not welcome to the other. Learn to say – I am uncomfortable. If you can’t say so, then don’t grumble, and accept it.

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