Addressing Vulnerability – Kelsey

Today in class we did a special exercise addressing the fact that people in an elevator will always move as far away from each other as possible. We and a partner (or group of three) had to sit with our knees touching for about 30 seconds.

We weren’t allowed to look away.

In this situation we were all feeling slightly uncomfortable. It was interesting the way people reacted. Some people looked at the clock, while some looked at our teacher Mr. J and others were in another place simply by thinking about something else.

Afterward we had a talk about how people felt. Some felt uncomfortable but I said I felt awkward because I was in a group of three and it was hard to figure out who to look at.

Mr. J said that this was like being in an elevator with complete strangers. You all move maybe unconsciously to other areas of the elevator. Some stand with their arms crossed in order to feel more secure and protected and others stare at the area  near the top of the elevator where it shows what floor you’re on or passing.

Mr. J said that one of his friends pretends to text so that he doesn’t look so awkward at bus stops or while waiting to meet friends. Then Mr. J brought up a very intriguing point. He said “did people in the 1930’s need phones to keep themselves less vulnerable? Maybe one of the reasons we invented the cellular phone is so that we can hide from other human beings. The way you got news in the 1930’s was by talking to people on the street and the way you found out about people wasn’t by phone but by talking to them.”

He brought up another good point. When there’s nothing to say people talk about the weather. It’s a neutral subject that doesn’t take much revealing of private things. Another is – most commonly at the hairdressers – school. People can ask you about your courses, your grade, what you like about school and they don’t have to worry about whether they are invading your privacy.

One of the things it reminded everyone of is being on a bus. If there is one seat left open right next to you people will go stand at the back. One of my classmates mentioned that on the bus the window seats are always taken with a row of seats down the inside empty and people will be standing at the back. It’s an interesting thought.

If you got on a popular bus you could do an experiment and see where people sat and which seats stayed empty.  I think that this subject was really interesting. It caught my attention and all that I could do was think about what was being said and making connections to my life


  1. I would argue that this is a cultural bias, not necessarily just the way things are. Perhaps you could set up a google form and have students from different countries express how they would feel in a similar situation. Do you think students from India, Japan, Germany, or South Africa would feel the same way?

  2. Mr. Chamberlain has a great idea, here!

    There may even be a way to embed a poll or Google Form in a post on the blog – could make for easy sharing to many points across the globe. It could actually blend into a Belief-data project Liam and I were talking about the other day:

    Let’s pursue this this week!

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. C!

    Mr. J

  3. Pingback: Vulnerability Survey – Kelly, Donya & Mr. J « Defying Normality

  4. I like walking around at the grocery store, making eye contact with people and smiling. It really surprised my how awkward this made me feel at first. But I started noticing the reactions – some people were obviously trying to figure out if they knew me, others turned away quickly. Once in a while, a person would look angry and glare at me, as if I’d done something wrong. And often, people would catch themselves laughing, or smiling back.

    I wonder why we walk around looking away from each other all the time? It must be at least partially the fear of vulnerability you talk about. Are we afraid we won’t know what to say? We’ll look silly?

    I also wonder what impact the whole “stranger danger” programming has on us? When mass media spreads the fear of child abductions and we start looking at each other in fear, teaching our children not to talk to “strangers” – did we lose our communities along with our trust in our fellow human beings? We closed our doors, we stopped talking to each other, we stopped sending the kids “out” to play, we stopped knowing our neighbors. It’s sad, isn’t it?

    I have to admit, I get immense joy from simply smiling at people. I’ve had lovely conversations, joked around and always walk away with a bounce in my step – no matter how lousy my day was before that.

    Try it – I highly recommend it! 🙂

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