The Issue Of Boundaries

You’ll always find people who are just flat out inappropriate with their timing or their approach to you. Sadly, I guess not everyone was raised to be sensitive to others’ needs and the possibility that they are encroaching or overstepping their bounds at times. Maybe they are completely unaware that they’re actually bothering you or hurting you in some way with their actions. Then again, maybe they are just self-absorbed and thinking about their own wants and needs in that moment.

My dad taught me many things when I was a kid. One of them was to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes and remember that we are all going through our own struggles. At some point in time I took it a step further, because I really wanted to understand as well as I could, what a life outside of mine could be like. I’d lie in bed whenever it was quiet and try to actively visualize the life of someone else, someone completely random that I didn’t even know or have met in person. Like an old woman in a retirement home who spent her whole life looking after others and now finds herself quite alone in her last days. Or the homeless man everyone ignores as they walk past him. I’d try to imagine what their lives could have been like, what led them to this point. Finally I started writing from their perspective, small, one-page pieces with a glimpse into the life of another person and how they thought and felt. Overall it made me a lot more aware of others’ feelings and left me convinced that none of us are entitled to judge another. Obviously that just made me a whole lot more aware and uncomfortable with people generally being so judgemental and inconsiderate of how they make others feel at times.

As much as there are many random moments and ways that people can disrespect your boundaries, it seems to be most commonly based on what you do for a living. Your choice of career somehow seems to give everyone at random a sort of free pass to bother you about it for the rest of your days, without so much as asking permission first. Ask any guy who knows a bit about IT and computers. They’re bound to be harassed by family and friends the moment something breaks or a new printer is bought. He’s just the go-to guy, whether he wants to be or not. Usually there’s a bit of bribery involved, often involving a free dinner, “…and while you’re here, won’t you take a look at my PVR? I can’t get the damn thing to record.” If you have a doctor in the family or are one yourself, you’ll know that you’re never really on holiday – especially on family holidays. Big get-togethers like Christmas or a family birthday means you’re basically going to be spending a good deal of your time giving free advice and check-ups to everyone, ranging from your aunt with her developing arthritis to your uncle’s brother in law who thinks he has a suspicious mole on his back. I’ve actually heard people say, “Oh she won’t mind, she does this every day! It’ll just take a minute.” I guess the fact that you do something every day somehow means you must want to do it even more when you clock out and finally have a chance to relax…

Cases get even more extreme as you move out of the general member of public circles and become a bit more well-known. It seems the more you move into the public eye, the less entitlement you have to basic human rights and even suggesting that you need a time out will cause an uproar of shock and even offense. As if you somehow owe your life and achievements to them and you’re throwing it in their faces by not always being on hand to sign autographs or smile for a picture. Porn stars, I’m very sure, have an issue with most fans thinking they are basically guaranteed sex with them because heck, it’s what they do for a living, on camera, so what’s the problem? Crude as it may seem, the reality is most guys would probably say they can at least cop a feel because they keep these actors in business. The less clothes were involved in getting you famous, the more people think it’s okay to get grabby. Somehow people seem to be completely blind and unaware that beyond what that person does or did, they still have unique personalities with interests and needs completely separate from what they’re known for, and that they’d like to just be treated with the same respect and decency we bestow upon other people we hardly know. More than that, we all get fed up with people wanting things from us sometimes and we should all have the right to turn off our phones and just take the day off if we need it, without having to worry about someone taking offense. Nobody ever willingly signed away their right to privacy, unless they were only in it for the fame.

It’s almost as if any sense of regard or consideration just goes straight out the window when normal people deal with ‘celebrities’ (I really don’t like that term, I’ve always thought they’re just people in more prominent public view than others). You’d swear they’re dealing with storefront mannequins at times. Just over ten years ago a friend dragged me to a nightclub and as it happened, a pretty well-known local radio and TV presenter was DJ’ing there that night. At some point in time he walked up and was standing beside me at the bar when out of the crowd a woman appeared. Pale, long mousy hair in a ponytail and thick-rimmed glasses, she seemed very out of place, compared to the makeup-drenched stiletto squad there. She walked straight up to him and asked, in a pretty thick Afrikaans accent, if he was who she thought he was. He barely said yes as she looked him up and down, then dropped this on him: “Jis. You really aren’t good looking in person. No wonder you’re on the radio.” And with that, she turned around and walked off. I think my jaw was dragging on the alcohol-stained floor in that moment, with my heart fast in tow. I couldn’t even look up to check his reaction, I was reeling with shock. He took a sip of his drink, put the glass on the bar counter and walked off into the crowd without a word. Later that night I saw him standing in a corner by himself, staring at his phone. I felt so sickened and sad. How the hell anyone could be so downright cruel and crass, I had no idea. The most disarming thing was seeing someone who usually has a mouth faster on the draw than a cowboy in a gunfight, being so very quiet. Some people would say in a sense he should have seen it coming and needs to deal with it, because this is the life he chose and how he chose to be seen. I don’t see anyone deserving that type of comment or treatment though, especially not if you weren’t personally hurt or offended by them in a bad way, and even then I’d usually keep my mouth shut. I suppose Joan Rivers must have got a lot of flak and inconsiderate comments in her lifetime too – after all, she only ever came across as crass and tactless even. Yes, you do reap what you sow. But for some, all they did was chase after something they really loved or wanted, propelled by their passion, never once wanting or thinking about receiving attention or fame as a result.

Sure, we inadvertently all end up being associated – often wrongfully or partially – by what we do or what we’re known for. We even do it to ourselves, albeit at will. If you’re a writer, down to your every last fibre, you’d proudly proclaim yourself as such. Women who can conceive of nothing better than being a mom, happily label themselves mothers above all else. The problem comes in when we get boxed and treated in a way we didn’t actually ask for. It’s not something that we can do much about, it’s just the way people think and behave. What you see is how you identify something or someone. So if an image of a person is only ever portrayed to you, over and over, in one way, it becomes hard to see or imagine them as more or anything different. Sadly, often the punishment we have to deal with for succeeding at what we strive for in life, is loss of respect and recognition for all we are, outside of the one thing people see or know you for.

It’s been said so many times that it pretty much just blows right past people’s conscious consideration these days, but you really do need to try and think beyond yourself when you deal with people. I’d challenge anyone to just take a day, or even half a day, to look at the people you come across in those hours and remember that there’s a whole lot more going on with them than just the few minutes of interaction they have with you.


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