We live in a society where politeness is not only taught, but it is encouraged in ways that can begin to take on the customer service representatives at Disney. Like anything, too much can manifest an imbalance that can adversely affect our lives. Just because we are taught to be polite it doesn’t mean we should allow people unfettered access to our space and time. When I think of my surroundings, I think of how much control I can impose upon my space. Controlling one’s space requires the understanding of the 3 Ps of distance: Perimeter, proximity and personal.
“Perimeter” includes physical boundaries such as walls, streets and obstacles you cannot step over. It also includes the people at your perimeter such as strangers on the street, people in your office building, students on your campus and people in your community. Being polite is a two-way street and although it might not be a good idea to treat everyone with suspicion, it’s also a bad idea to assume everyone in your perimeter is well meaning. Requesting space with a clear voice is warranted and not impolite if someone in your perimeter comes within your “proximity”. If they ignore your request, then you have no reason to continue being polite.
“Proximity” is any space, place or person that is familiar to you. Your neighborhood, your block, your office, your child’s school and all of the people that reside within that proximity. You might extend more “rights” to these people, but a polite respect should still be maintained. When it is not, then a clear command to correct the behavior is warranted and it doesn’t mean you’re being impolite. Quite the contrary, when people assume our boundaries incorrectly, it is up to us to make them clearer, because we either did a poor job of it or the transgressor doesn’t understand that proximity is not always “personal”.
“Personal” space is reserved for those places and people we share intimacy. Our homes, private office, business confidants, close friends, family members and significant others. Despite the “rights” we have extended to the people we love and probably hug on a regular basis, we are still the ultimate arbiters of our personal space. When people transgress our personal space and impose unwanted intimacy, we have the right to command in a loud and clear voice our discomfort. It’s no wonder we yell more in our homes than anywhere else. It doesn’t make us impolite to maintain our boundaries everywhere.
Maintaining boundaries takes some discipline and effort, but over time we will remove the stress of having to attend to unwanted intrusions. By following the 3 Ps we also might find we have more energy left over to be fully present for the people that really deserve our politeness.