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Respecting Space

One of the things we emphasize a lot for young students in our dojo is finding a safe place. We ask where a safe place might be, or who they could go to in order to avoid a dangerous situation. Sometimes we have them defend against an instructor then run to their parents. With adults, we talk about finding safe space in the middle of the fight a lot, but we don’t always have as much time to talk about what safe space looks like before and after a conflict.

One simple exercise I like to suggest is spend a day paying attention to what space between people looks like in everyday life. When does someone feel ‘too close’ when you’re out and about. What adjustments do you make when it happens? When I’m standing in line somewhere, for example, and the person behind me is too close by my standards I tend to stand in line slightly bladed. Enough that the person behind me isn’t right up against my back, but not so much that I end up giving them a creepy feeling.

A news reporter that our wife and I know posted online a few weeks ago that she had been bumped into at the grocery store … and only later realized that the woman that ‘bumped’ into her had in fact stolen her phone. While we can’t eliminate threats entirely, by paying attention to space and by also noting carefully whenever someone breaks our own code of ‘respecting the property and space of all’ we can be a more prepared if something happens. I’ve been in several crowded grocery stores before, but it is very rare that one is so crowded that I’m getting bumped into. If it does happen without a large crowd to justify it, it is worth examination. Odds are it was a simple accident. But it doesn’t hurt to glance around, surreptitiously check your pockets and ask yourself why it happened.

It doesn’t even have to be something as nefarious as an intentional assault or theft. Accidental injury can happen when people aren’t paying attention. If I must walk through crowds and get closer to people that I would prefer, I let my hands hover near people’s elbows. I can lightly touch their elbow to let them know I’m passing near, or I can check the elbow if they suddenly turn toward me. (As a shorter person, getting elbowed in the face by someone who isn’t paying attention in a crowd is a very real possibility!)

Our mindful action code is a reminder to us to avoid pitfalls in our own behavior that can cause problems in the world, but also remind us to use extra caution if we are forced into a situation (such as a large crowd where I can’t respect the space of all the way I would prefer) and just as important remind us to be wary of those around us who are violating those codes. It isn’t necessarily an indication of danger, but it is an indication that more attention, an increase in awareness and readiness, is needed.

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