Imagine you are sitting in a cafe with someone you’ve just met or an acquaintance. Both of you are chatting, and suddenly this person reaches over, picks up your mobile phone and begins to “explore”. Your phone is locked. Taken aback, you ask ‘why?’ and the person replies ‘new phone? I’m curious how it feels’.
How do you think and feel about this situation? What would you do in response? What would you say, if anything?
I ran this scenario by a few people and I received varied responses ranging from ‘it’s just a phone’ to ‘oh well, at least the phone is locked’ to ‘it’s private, how dare they’.
Someone suggested I was being too sensitive over a mobile phone. Apparently I needed to ‘lighten up’. But the point isn’t about the phone, rather that the person assumed they were entitled, and had the power, to reach over and pick up my phone.
Same scenario, what if it was something truly personal or private to you?
Same scenario, what if it was your hand, arm, shoulder… thigh…?
Same scenario, what if it was a close acquaintance, a friend, an intimate friend, a family member…?
I was angry at the audacity to interfere with my personal property. I would be equally angry if it was a book I’d been reading or a pat on the hand.
Touch can be intimate. Much is written about how physical touch is intimate – when the physical is about our body which is highly personal. Intimacy is a perspective from the giver as well as the receiver, dependent on the relationship between the two and the context. It is dependent on what the receiver considers to be personal.
Yes, our tolerances differ, and across different contexts. It is not easy for the giver to decipher.
Is it not therefore appropriate to ask for permission before touching something not our own, something that belongs to another, something which we cannot assume to be ‘public property’? Is it too much to expect another to be respectful?
Is ‘may I…’ such a difficult question?
So what did I do or say in that situation? After the initial ‘surprise’, I reached over and retrieved my phone, saying ‘please don’t touch my stuff without asking permission’.
What do you imagine or hope the person would say in reply?
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