One of the fascinating things we can notice about ourselves as humans, is that we want a place in our environment. A place that “feels right,” even if it’s short term and not actually our own. One of the more dramatic illustrations I’ve experienced was on an airplane. I was settled in “my” seat, 3 rows from the back of the plane. Shortly a woman came down the aisle and as she passed me, she began to complain loudly. It seemed her assigned seat was in the very last row.
“This is not for me,” she shouted. “I paid for my ticket in good faith and I will not sit in the noisy back seat. What’s the matter with this airline? This is not acceptable…” I’ll spare you the tirade, but it was vitriolic and at top volume. I also began to think it might go on for a long time. Jet engine roar was much easier to bear.
I had no idea if it would help, but I spoke to the frustrated flight attendant and offered to trade with the irate passenger. Mind you, I was only 2 rows ahead of her!
“Really?” the frustrated attendant was incredulous. “Are you sure?” (As if I had bought the seat itself!) So we switched—and it switched off the yelling, too.
This woman’s feeling was complex, but for sure her sense of personal place had been violated, then restored.
We do something similar in other places: think theater or stadium seats or restaurant tables. We do it even at parties. We come into the room and look immediately for a place to sit or to stand. We claim one. We do not expect it to be changed. If I mark the place, say, with a purse, woe to the one who moves that purse over a seat or two! But usually, this is so common a concern that we respect the unspoken social demand: we let the purse stay, and look for another place altogether. And waiting for a parade, don’t we claim a bit of the pavement?
What is this in us? How is it that we are so much more at ease when we’ve claimed a place? I don’t see any great message here, just an observation of one of the peculiarities of us humans. A good giggle follows.