patronizing.net

A Transgression Of Space

Protecting The Buffer Zone

A transgression in this context refers to the violation of a social norm. Encroaching on another individual’s personal space, the buffer zone that most people like to keep between themselves and others, is a transgression of that space. Typically, people feel uncomfortable when other people stand or sit too close to them, seeing this as an invasion of their personal space.

In some situations a transgression of personal space is not avoidable.

In some situations a transgression of personal space is not avoidable.

However, there are situations where our social tolerances, along with our buffer zones, are put to the test. Patrons in a busy restaurant, for instance, or passengers on a crowded bus, have little expectation of personal space. They may not like it, but they accept the fact that their discomfort is caused by overcrowding, not by transgression. In such circumstances, arrogance or selfishness is seldom inferred.

Space At A Premium

Obviously, people in societies where crowding is the norm, have a different take on what constitutes personal space. It may be human nature to crave elbow room but, where overcrowding is the norm, personal space becomes a luxury that few can afford. It would be patronizing to assume that people could maintain a buffer zone under such conditions, where transgression is unavoidable.

For those of us who can afford this luxury, it’s important to remember that our definition of personal space may be completely different from how others define it. As mentioned, people who have lived in overcrowded conditions may step on our toes (literally and figuratively) without realizing their transgression.

When in Rome, it’s a good idea to do what the Romans do, but not every visitor to Rome has read the manual on personal space. Without walking in another man’s shoes, we can never be sure whether the other guy is crowding us out of arrogance or out of ignorance. Transgression is transgression, but it’s important to be sure of intent before you react. Consider yourself lucky if you can remedy the situation by simply standing or sitting someplace else.

Different Strokes

Even among ‘Romans’, personal space is open to debate and broad interpretation. If you’re a people person, close contact with other human beings is hardly a problem. You might even be comfortable on that crowded bus. Then, there are people who just want a little quiet time to have a coffee and read the newspaper. They need a little more space but, in most cases, are approachable.

Finally, there are those people whose buffer zone could accommodate a hula hoop. Less approachable than most folk, they (like Greta Garbo) just want to be alone. Tread carefully here, lest you commit a transgression of personal space.