Hod was built like a tank and in his 60s when he hired me to work at the radio station. He was quite charismatic, had a deep voice, and dominated space wherever he went. He was proud of the glass eye that replaced his natural eye that he lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was ultra-conservative in his political views which he shared each day during his on-air commentary. Thankfully, he was somewhat open to hearing other points of view, even those of the very few liberals, like me, in the office.
One of his negative traits was the proclivity to intimidate staffers. His habit reminded me of President Lyndon Johnson’s way of leaning into other people’s personal space as a way to influence them. As far as I know, Hod’s space violations were not harassment in the conventional way, but they did come off as domineering. One could have described Hod as a super-alpha male.
One incident stands out as borderline harassment of me. I was seated at my desk sorting through the music playlist for the AM station, deeply concentrating on the task. Out of the blue, Hod came up from behind and grasped my shoulders with his huge hands. Hod squeezed the shoulders and upper arms. He was certainly showing dominance and he clearly captured my full attention.
Hod asked a question about a particular song I had put into heavy rotation. He implied that he disliked the song’s lyrics. I spun around in the chair in order to dislodge his hands and to enable myself to talk face to face with him. I have since forgotten the exact conversation, but the creepy shoulder and arm massage from my boss remains a strong memory.
Perhaps a month or so later, Hod grabbed my shoulders again. I reacted more quickly and insisted that he not ever do that again. That was the last time Hod ever physically invaded my personal space. We got along better afterwards, as well. In hindsight, many years later, I realize that Hod had violated my boundaries as I had then defined them. Asserting my boundaries was something he respected and even seemed to admire. Hod consulted me more often about business-related problems and respected whatever advice I shared.
Although I did not know the dictionary definition of personal boundaries, I managed to set them in regards to Hod’s behavior. Hod had received the message that grabbing shoulders is a stark violation of personal space. A personal space that extends to a certain area surrounding the body, into which Hod nor anyone else may come into without my explicit invitation.
Whenever anyone has her or his personal space violated, privacy and self-esteem are damaged. The harm quickly goes deep and remains for a long time. In many instances, violation of personal space is a manipulative tactic to show dominance of one person over another. It’s not only rude, but harmful.
A particularly pervasive different form of personal space violation has come about through our new technologies and devices. The Web, computers, and mobile phones gather personal information, in the background, without our awareness nor explicit permission. This disruption affects our definition of personal boundaries, and overall privacy.
We experience our lives through our inner feelings and unspoken thoughts. They distinguish us from the outer world and other human beings. We depend upon privacy in order to maintain psychological stability and mental solidarity. Protecting our privacy is vital. For profit or subterfuge, companies are actively working to find more ways to go around our personally defined boundaries. It is becoming easier to invade that most private space we have–our minds. It seems that soon we may not have any vestige of personal space at all.
All things considered, all people actually want is to be able to choose who and when we want to be close or distant from somebody. We pick and choose to be close to our friends and lovers. We also prefer to maintain certain distances from strangers and adversaries. Our boundaries flex and change depending upon who is near and whatever the circumstances happen to be. But personally defined personal space is exactly what everybody needs.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes editor, teacher, poet, and writer, Warsan Shire. “Light attracts light. But sometimes your light attracts moths and your warmth attracts parasites. Protect your space and energy.”