The Concept of Personal Space

Photo by Reuters
As you can tell from the picture above, things are crowded in Indonesia. This picture describes not only the massive amount of motorcycles on the road, but also the chaos on the streets as people are all trying to get home for the Hari Raya Idul Fitri holiday.

I am coming to understand the magnitude of being in a country that has the 4th largest population in the world (behind China, India and the United States). There are times when places get so crowded that it overwhelms you. People are everywhere. Sometimes places get so crowded that it is literally shoulders to shoulder.

Personally, I like places where there are a lot of people, therefore I don’t really mind the traffic and the busyness. But one thing that I had to wrestle through was the “personal space” issue. It has been stated that for a Westerner, a person’s comfort zone is estimated around 24.5 inches (60 centimeters) on either side, 27.5 inches (70 centimeters) in front and 15.75 inches (40 centimeters) behind. But of course, in more densely populated places such as India or Indonesia they have a smaller personal space dimension.

I didn’t realized how much I loved my personal space until it got violated. Recently, my family and I were at a public place and there were hundreds, if not thousands of people in a small space. In order for people to get a better view of the presentation, they crawled, pushed (shoved), and pressed against our bodies. It was so bad that I started to sweat from the body heat from the people who were pressing against us.

At first, I couldn’t help but to get a bit upset. I even judged some of the parents for not teaching their children to say, “excuse me” when they bumped into people. But then again, it was also the parents who were shoving and pushing. Let’s just say that I had a very hard time being Christ-like in that situation.

But then I had to rethink about my paradigm and worldview.

I come from a place where individualism is highly prized and valued. Also, the concept of personal space is very important to a Westerner. But in Indonesia and many other countries that are more communal, the concept of “my space” is not really reinforced nor is it something that is valued. Your space is my space and my space is your space – this is the operative phrase here.

Once again, we are the foreigners and we need to learn how to adjust. It would have been so easy to exert my Western ideals unto a group of people but that would have been not only arrogant, but insensitive to people who operate under a completely different mindset.

Therefore, our family gave up our demand for personal space and just went with the flow. It was quite the experience but it made us feel like we were part of something bigger (literally).

Spiritual ENTREPRENEUR, Church EQUIPPER, Leadership EDUCATOR, Ideas EXPERIMENTER & Global EXPLORER who is trying to transform lives and transform the world.
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