Here's a Refresher on How to Be Mindful of People's Actual Personal Space

Here's a Refresher on How to Be Mindful of People's Actual Personal Space

Joe Biden recently vowed to “be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space” ... but isn't this something we all should have learned at 3 or 4 years old?

By Marianne Garvey
Joe Biden

On Wednesday, Joe Biden finally addressed the four women who came forward saying they had been uncomfortable with the ways he had touched them. In the personal video he posted to Twitter, he promised to “be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

He wrote, “Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it … Over the years, knowing what I’ve been through, the things that I’ve faced, I found that scores, if not hundreds, of people have come up to me and reached out for solace and comfort — something, anything that may help them get through the tragedy they’re going through,’’ he said. “It’s just who I am. I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic.”

“In my career, I’ve always tried to make a human connection — that’s my responsibility, I think,” he says to the camera. “I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this.’”

The presidential hopeful, 76, had been accused by former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores of “touching her inappropriately and kissing her on the head in 2014.” Two more women told The New York Times that Biden’s touches made them “uncomfortable.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (a longtime friend of Biden) said this week, “People’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”

People’s space is not only important, it’s necessary, reports Live Science. Check this out. It explains that not getting into our neighbor's personal space is “among the most sacrosanct rules of social behavior. But how do these invisible bubbles of space surrounding each of us come to exist in the first place, and why does it feel so icky when they overlap?”

We begin to develop our sense of personal space around ages 3 or 4 and learn we are “enveloped by bubbles of four different sizes, each of which applies to a different set of potential interlopers.

The smallest zone, called ‘intimate space,’ extends outward from our bodies 18 inches in every direction, and only family, pets and one's closest friends may enter. A mere acquaintance hanging out in our intimate space gives us the heebie-jeebies. Next in size is the bubble Hall called "personal space," extending from 1.5 feet to 4 feet away. Friends and acquaintances can comfortably occupy this zone, especially during informal conversations, but strangers are strictly forbidden. Extending from 4 to 12 feet away from us is social space, in which people feel comfortable conducting routine social interactions with new acquaintances or total strangers. Beyond that is public space, open to all.”

Got it?

Dr. Judith Orloff has studied personal space, writing, “If you want to see people get angry fast, try invading their personal space. These intrusions cause our stress hormones to skyrocket and can affect our physical and mental health. Blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension are all affected. Thus, the public outrage at new intrusive security pat downs of passengers in airports. Why can personal space intrusions make our blood boil and boost our stress level? Aside from being obnoxious, rude, dangerous or unhealthy, they violate a primitive instinct that we’re not safe or respected."

She says there are a few ways to deal with interlopers.

“Don’t act impulsively. Take a breath. Stay calm. Decide how you want to respond. Sometimes you’ll opt to address the issue directly. If so, it’s most effective to express your needs with an even, non-accusatory or angry tone.

Sometimes it’s more aggravation than it’s worth to confront intruders who you’ll never see again: the motor-mouth woman in the airport ticket line, the guy who steals your parking space … Remember, they’re usually not doing it to you personally. Maybe they’re just having a bad day. Maybe they lack the good sense or manners not to intrude. Or perhaps they’re so egotistical or inconsiderate they’re only concerned for themselves … Stick to the high road. Try to remedy the problem using the above tips.”

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