Ahimsa 9: About Respecting Personal Spaces

After a hard day’s work you retire to your room, pick up a book and settle down for an hour of quietness, when suddenly the peace is shattered by loud music from a nearby marriage hall. You try not to let it bother you, but after a while you become angry. You clench your teeth. And then your fists. You throw the books down. You shout at your wife who has nothing to do with this at all. You threaten to go down and cut their wires. Have you ever thought of this intrusion into your personal space as violence? And your own reaction, a violent one too?

For most of us, our personal space is sacred. Whether that space is a luxuriously quiet room, a table in the corner or a moment of snatched solitude with a cup of coffee. The personal space we crave needs quietness and solitude. But, much of our space is violated by noise. …….. ringing telephones which pierce our ears; blaring, deafening horns, loud, earsplitting music, screeching of tyres, booming voices and so much more ………and lack of space - congested roads, narrow corridors, flats built so close to each other. All of this violates our sense of space and need for solitude. Unable to bear the noise and the crowd, we turn into himsa people, snapping at each other.

Perhaps you may not have thought of inconsiderate interruptions, rummaging through drawers or papers that are not your own, reading mail that doesn’t belong to you, listening at doors to conversations as himsa behaviour. These acts are violations of space and privacy and so it is violence. When our personal space is disrupted, we become angry and this often leads to verbal or emotional violence.

How can we cultivate ahisma behaviour when our own personal space is threatened? By learning to identify and respect our spouse’s, parents’, colleague’s personal spaces. For each person, the idea of space is different, and when we live and work together we need to respect the other person’s need for space as much as we do ours.

For me, the time while I have my first cup of coffee is the most sacred time of my day. Over the years my family have learnt to respect that and not violate it. In return I too have identified their spaces and respect it enough not to violate it.

A friend of mine needs to be alone in the front porch with his cigarette, coffee and newspaper. Nobody would dare disturb him first thing in the morning during his time of solitude. His wife’s space is last thing at night watching her favourite TV serial. There have been many squabbles over this as he often interrupts her asking for a drink, or expecting her to search for something he has mislaid during that time. This insensitiveness and lack of respect is a form of violence. Ahimsa means not just being sensitive to the desires those we live and work with, but also giving them the same opportunities for quietness that we want for ourselves.

Today in many corporate establishments, the old fashioned wooden doors and desks are replaced by glass and lightwood desks. What may have originally been a good idea for transparency in work atmospheres has backfired and today it violates many people’s privacy. People sit at their desks surrounded by noise and confusion. They are constantly frustrated and annoyed by the ceaseless chatter around them and the incessant whir of printers and photocopiers. Says Roopa, who works in a corporate atmosphere, “ The sound of the printers and copiers , are just three feet away from my desk, so there is a loud constant background whirr. Then there is the guy in the next cubicle who insists on checking his voice mail through the speakerphone. Everyday, I grind my teeth and shake my head in disbelief while listening to the dull roar of the combined efforts of the printers, fax machines, photocopiers, telephones, speakerphones, inconsiderate co –workers and slamming doors. Then there are other conversations beside my desk and I wonder how I can be expected to work effectively amidst such a crazy furor. Working in such an environment has made me very intolerant and constantly angry. Basically, I just can’t stand people any more. At the end of the day I have no power left to smile, or wish anyone good night. I just leave. Then I battle through traffic for an hour or more. Life has turned me into a himsa person. “ Open plan offices leave us with no privacy, increased noise and a feeling of being constantly monitored - so it comes as no surprise to learn that many people become himsa oriented. An assistant to a CEO remarked, “A lot of my work is confidential, so working in an open plan office makes me very paranoid. I don’t leave documents on my desk, and I’m always aware that other people can hear me on the phone. I have become suspicious and trust no one. As a result I have no friends in my workplace. ”

Many of us face this kind of harassment and we don’t even think of it as violence. But violence it is. If this is the way your business, office, hospital is run, you cannot change it, but there are still ways in which you can practice ahimsa with yourself and others even in a corporate environment.

In such a ‘violence’ charged atmosphere, being an ahimsa person requires that you be extremely sensitive to another’s needs for quietness and space. It means being aware that your neighbour, colleague, children or spouse also have needs for privacy. Speaking softly, turning your phone off when speaking face to face with someone, closing doors gently, knocking before you enter, not listening in on intercoms to conversations, are ways in which you can practice ahimsa. So too is giving you colleagues and spouses time to be alone to gather their thoughts.

Our modern way of work and life turns us into monsters who snap and bite first and then ask questions.

If you are an ahimsa person and have a story to share please write to the author at ushajesudasan@gmail.com