It occurred to me the other day that a great deal of crisis behavior can be directly or indirectly related to an invasion of personal space.

Someone tailgating you or cutting you off in traffic gets you upset. Asking someone a personal question can elicit a response that suggests it’s really none of your business. Grabbing someone’s smartphone without their permission can create all kinds of problems.

Even a person’s displaced anger can be traced back to someone else invading their personal space and them projecting their displeasure on us. Bullying is a prime example of this. The bully grabs a fellow student’s lunch and throws it on the floor. Personal space has been invaded but the victim dare not retaliate against the bully for fear of further abuse. So he or she, who by now is emotionally loaded, takes their frustrations out on the next teacher they see.

Our American lexicon is filled with figures of speech that show just how strongly we feel about our personal space. Let’s start with our history. “Don’t tread on me,” “No taxation without representation,” and “Give me liberty or give me death” speak volumes about how we feel about America’s space.

“Get out of my face,” “Back off,” and “Get outta here” are strong statements that reflect our sudden displeasure with others getting too close.

“Not right now,” “Gimme a minute,” and “Right now?” probably indicate that we have gotten too close to one of the most precious commodities that people have: time.

When my kids get a little too close to each other’s space I’ll often hear them say, “You’re not the boss of me,” “Who are you to tell me what to do?” and “That’s none of your business.”

You have to compete for space in nearly every sport. Competition breeds excitable behaviors. Neighbors argue and take each other to court over property lines and fences. Wars are usually about seizing another’s territory or treasure, and terrible behaviors are the result.

The issue takes on a creative form. The Rolling Stones sang "Get Off of My Cloud." George Orwell’s 1984 had Big Brother watching you and constantly looming in the space of the citizens of Oceania. A funny film by the name of Office Space involves one of its characters committing arson after having his space constantly invaded, including the taking of his cherished red stapler by the company president.

So the next time you’re intervening in a crisis, ask yourself if it’s a space issue. When debriefing an incident, see if you can identify the trigger as related to a spatial matter. Most importantly, if you want to prevent a crisis, keep in mind the precious, limited, prized space that we all hold so dear.

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