Distance and punish

I was thinking recently about the deliberate strategy of using distance to punish. I thought initially of the everyday occurrence when driving and somebody cuts you off. Some people then hang back from the offending car, placing a bit of distance between them as if to say to the world, stay away, this guy’s a bad driver! Of course, I’ve never done that or had it done to me! But you’re using distancing to punish and even shame someone.

Then yesterday I was out on the sidewalk in front of my house retrieving my wheely-bin (or Herbies as they’re called here). A guy was coming down the street who looked like he might be homeless (though I don’t know). Anyway he deliberately stopped walking toward me quite some way away and looked up into the air. I smiled at him but he wouldn’t meet my eye. After I wheeled the bin up the driveway he gradually resumed and continued walking along the sidewalk in front of my house. Could be liberal guilt of course but I was wondering if it wasn’t also a strategy of deliberate distancing to highlight…well I’m not quite sure. Neither of us knew each other so whatever it was it wasn’t personal.

There are probably lots of other examples of this this that might occur to you.

2 responses to “Distance and punish

  1. I dunno…usually distance from a bad drive is a safety measure: certainly they teach that in defensive driving classes as a way of avoiding an accident. As to the guy on the street, he might have had a mental disability or illness. Anthropological there are shunning/ostracizing techniques that are used as levelling mechanisms in society and to shame those who stray from what is considered normal but I am not sure if either of those examples quite fits…now if you had avoided the ‘homeless’ guy, then I would say it was deliberate distance to reinforce a S-E class divide!

  2. Shunning is the concept I was groping for! When we were young we had a variant of this I forgot to mention before: being “sent to Coventry.” I don’t know the origin of that phrase but it was a form of schoolyard shunning whereby you ignored and didn’t speak to the person who had been “sent” to Coventry. (ObSpec: Coventry was heavily bombed in WWII and possibly this phrase comes from the implied undesirability or threat of going there at the time.)

    Update: Hm, apparently the phrase is older than that, at least 19th if not 18th century.

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