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Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine had a boyfriend that they described as a "close talker?"

Have you ever met someone like that--a person who has to get about five inches from your face while he or she is talking to you?

There's not necessarily something wrong with a close talker, except that there is a failure to understand the concepts of personal space or agreed-upon boundaries.

Most of us like a small halo of space around us, no matter where we go or what we are doing.

For instance, imagine that you are going to attend a small meeting in a conference room in a building you've never been to before. As many as eight to 10 people might attend, and you are the first one to arrive.

Ten chairs are arranged in a semi-circle and you sit down at one end.

The second person comes into the room--a person that you've never met--and that person says hello and then plops down right next to you.

Of the nine empty chairs available, he chose the one right next to you.

How do you feel?

Most of us don't like someone we don't know in our personal space under those circumstances.

On the other hand, if all 10 chairs are taken except the one next to you, and the final person comes in the room and takes that seat, then it is a different matter altogether.

He needs a seat, and the only option is right by you.

In that case, it is socially acceptable for him to sit down by your side.

It is the same way when we ride an elevator. We do not ordinarily like standing close to strangers, but everyone tends to allow that on an elevator because we simply want to get to another floor.

But outside the elevator? There's no way that 12 strangers are going to stand in a tight cluster.

There are simply certain unwritten rules about not getting too close to a person we don't know very well.

Those rules are in place because that is the way about 98 percent of us want to be.

In fact, we have such a firm conviction about having some breathing room around us that we will skip out of some places if it is too crowded.

Studies have shown, for instance, that when a church auditorium approaches 80 percent capacity, that people will stop coming.

There is room for more, but there is not room for everyone to have space.

And at that point, in many cases, a person's personal space becomes more sacred than public worship of the Almighty.

Maybe we shouldn't say it that way, but nevertheless choices are made that reflect that belief.

And speaking of churches, there are some people who like small churches, saying that they are comfortable with small groups where everyone knows everyone else.

Other people like a much larger church, one where it's so large that you can blend in. Some people say they don't like small churches because literally everyone in the place can turn around and see you come in.

Not so in a large church.

But on the other hand, some folks say that a particular church might be too big for them. I think I understand, that is, if they mean that they like to know everyone who attends.

The pastor of a very large church was having a conversation with a person one time who told him, "I don't like your church. There are just too many people there for me."

The pastor replied, "At what point do you think we should start telling people not to come?"

Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with a small cozy church and there's nothing wrong with a modern-day mega-church.

The only thing that matters in either case is the condition of a person's heart as he comes in.

Or as he leaves.

But that gets us back to the discussion about personal space. We have to ask, "Will heaven be crowded?"

Be careful how you answer that.

-- David Wilson, EdD, of Springdale, is a former high school principal and is the communications director for the Transit and Parking Department at the University of Arkansas. His book, Learning Every Day, is available on Amazon. You may e-mail him at The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 05/16/2018

Print Headline: Protecting personal space

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