Our Peripheral Zones are Glass

by Anastasiia Ryshytiuk, UWCM
February 17th, 2023
Illustration by Upaluk Jensen

Heini Hediger, a noted 20th-century Swiss biologist, found that the space around an animal could be parti- tioned into zones. These zones are nested within one another, and measurable down to a matter of centi- metres. The outermost circle is what’s known as flight distance, then there is the defence distance which is our fight mode, and the last zone is the crit- ical distance, where an animal can neither flee, nor fight, it freezes; hoping for the best. From this so- called peripersonal space you not only protect your- self, but are also able to explore the world.

In UWC, our zones are within the glass walls. There is nowhere to hide within glass walls. And glass is that one material the boundaries in UWC are made of. Consciously or not, our previously firm bounda- ries are cracked and subjected to impermissible en- try. In this environment, most of us are still pro- cessing and thoroughly examining acceptable lim- its. We sanction exceptions in attempts to adjust to the erratic, wobbly stream of line-crossers. After- wards, we forget to make a mental note that the ex- act incident when we felt like curling up into a ball crosses a boundary. Our past chaotically plays with the form of our peripheral zone, adapts it and notice- ably leaves its print. We do not have the slightest superficial idea of others’ experience and how ab- ruptly their glass boundaries are affected by it. But when somebody gets the green light to enter our comfort zone, we want them to be careful because you can’t just carelessly push the glass down, you’ll shatter it.

Thanks to your mindfulness and prudency, the mate- rial our boundaries are made of doesn’t change its initial characteristics, it may be a diaphanous glass in context of everyday social interactions on campus but lucid consideration allows it to stay strong. Is it an issue of ego or far-fetched authority to not notice a petrified facial expression of the person next to

you? Their expression gradually indicates that they are not present in the mo-
ment anymore, they are reduced to the size of a tin soldier and all they see outside is their body put into a critical distance zone. A zone to freeze.

Sometimes approaching others feels like building a Genoa bridge but knowing that it is un- stable beforehand. By being mindful you build a firm construction. Show attention and try stepping on it- you’ll get a clear scenery. After all, it is not about adjusting the basis of who you are to fit into your environment, it’s about changing our response to surroundings and being brave enough to follow up in a day, a week or two and make things clear. Heini Hedi- ger has a point, we are social animals and our peripheral zones matter.