We need to be tolerant when our personal spaces are violated.
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 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, ear-splitting 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.
Violations of privacy
Perhaps you may not have thought that inconsiderate interruptions, rummaging through drawers that are not yours, reading mail that doesn’t belong to you, listening at doors to private 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.
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 them enough not to violate them.
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 for her is a form of violence.
Ahimsa behaviour means learning to identify and respect our spouse’s, parents’, colleague’s personal spaces and privacy. It also requires that we be sensitive to the desires those we live and work with, and grant 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. Everyday, I grind my teeth 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 furore. 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.” Many of us face this kind of harassment and we don’t even think of it as violence. But violence it is.
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. And yes, I realise I am a himsa person, and I hate being this way.” Are we doomed to be himsa people, or are there 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 we be extremely sensitive to another’s needs for quietness and space. It means being aware that our neighbour, colleague, children or spouse also have needs for privacy which must be respected. Speaking softly, turning the phone off when speaking face to face with someone, closing doors gently, knocking before entering, not listening in on intercoms are ways in which we can practise ahimsa behaviour. So too is giving colleagues and spouses time to be alone to gather their thoughts. Our modern way of work and life need not turn us into himsa monsters. Pursuing the ahimsa way is hard but rewarding in the long run.
6 months ago