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Defences activate

For this exploriment, I chose the second option, which is to sit with a friend for ten minutes and get comfortable, then, sit with a stranger for 10 minutes and get comfortable. The experiences between the two cases are very different. First of all, it is easier to get comfortable with a friend when you sit next to them and they will immediately start talking to you. Secondly, it is not easy to find a stranger who will settle down in one place for ten minutes. It is also much more difficult to get comfortable sitting beside a stranger.

Some even look at you strangely or go away when you sit even closer. Inherently, people are personally attuned to civil inattention, which is not merely ignoring another person, but is more of the recognition of another’s presence but avoiding any gestures that might be regarded as too intrusive. This unconscious engagement with others is probably what makes it more difficult for us to get comfortable with strangers. Civil inattention implies that we have no reason to suspect the other person or find any reason to avoid them or suspect their intentions.

When sitting closer to a friend, there is no civil inattention because of familiarity. It is because there have been many social interactions with a friend that the unconscious barriers that trigger civil inattention have been torn down. In the stranger’s case, however, sitting closer to them and just trying to get comfortable can be regarded as an intrusion on their personal space. This can spark many different kinds of reaction such as walking away, getting suspicious and a direct question at times.

Often, it is when there is speaking involved between the parties that makes the process of making yourself comfortable with anyone much easier. The experience reflects on why, even if we see the same people everyday, when we commute or go into buildings, that we don’t do anything beyond ignoring them or letting them do their jobs. Everyone has a personal space they want to protect, and as strangers approach, especially in a world of confusion and violence, our personal defences activate. It is also because of our inherent civil inattention that frees us from paranoia in walking into a place full of strangers.

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