HAVANA TIMES — A kid was playing with his soccer ball near the spot where we were waiting in line to buy bread. Not far, his parents kept an eye on him while they talked. The ball flew very close to me several times – and almost hit my face once – but the kid’s parents never said anything to him.
Finally, the blessed ball hit me and dirtied my clothes. I reprimanded the child, and his parents became furious. “Can’t you see it’s just a kid? Pick on someone your own size,” they said to me, thinking they were helping the child.
“It’s not a question of size, but politeness,” I said to them, adding: “he’s a child and he’s learning. If he doesn’t learn to behave now, when will he? When he’s an old man?” The parents kept insulting and contradicting me.
Arguing on the street is a common thing among Cubans. It’s become an everyday phenomenon, and we no longer even notice how dangerous this trend is. What’s become even more common and dangerous than arguing, however, is the way people encroach on the personal spaces of others.
Our “personal space” is the one-meter-square (or so) area that surrounds us and we are unwilling to share with anyone, save those people we care for. Encroaching on this space commonly sparks off conflicts, as one would expect between an invader and those invaded. Smells, touch, energies and gazes are interchanged up close in our personal spaces – it is a fairly intimate experience.
Cuba has become the ideal stage for the violation of personal spaces. Life in this country is a succession of crammed buses, overcrowded homes and long lines of people everywhere.
Our context encourages such practices, but so do bad manners, or the complete lack of manners of Cubans who, having lost their basic values, have not only forgotten what a personal space is, but also the proper way of defending it.
Sometimes, a person who is defending their personal space becomes an aggressor, passing from one role to the other because they lack awareness and have been trained to play the “tough guy”, that is to say, to win an argument through physical or verbal violence.
This is why I believe parents should help their children by teaching them to respect the personal spaces of others, following that much-repeated maxim: “respect towards the rights of others is peace.”