Dr. Stephen Phinney
Proxemics & Chronemics
I know this label is new to most, but Proxemics is the branch of knowledge & behavior that deals with the amount of space people feel necessary to set between themselves and others.
God designs the human brain to process all information that is allowed to enter the mind. When too much information enters on a repetitive basis without proper processing time, the brain goes into what is called by most “information overload.” The science world calls it chronemics – brain pauses, which forces Proxemics – nonverbal communication to allow processing.
While it is true that many people use resistive silence to punish others, researchers are noting a trend, such a trend that it has become the talk of the internet. If it is a cultural problem, it is worth our time to review it.
My old boss once said silence is the most powerful and effective way to control others. I tend to agree with him. But, there is a more scientific view to resistive silence.
Here are the facts.
The human mind demands social contact rituals, which involve maintaining specific areas of one’s personal space. When outsiders intrude on such space without permission, the mind becomes obligated to slip into defense mode to protect itself. This is when Proximus comes into play. It includes how close you stand in a conversation with someone during social interaction to habits in responding to others, or not, in social networks, face-to-face communications, written content, emails, or generalized texting.
Proxemics is the study of how space is used in human interactions. For example, the more direct the communication, the higher level of temptation to use resistive silence. When a culture shits into resistance against authority as a norm, a covert, unconscious structure is established in their involuntary response system. Meaning, the reactions of distancing & resistive silence become subconscious. Over time, this subversive behavior’s outcome places him or herself in a position of replacing the authentic authority with themselves – resulting in a society that cannot be told what to do. In our terminology, we call it “self-as-god.”
While it is important to respect an individual's private space, humanity from the Garden forward requires directives from authority figures to maintain spiritual, psychological & social growth and guidance. When a society is forced into resistive silence as a norm, it becomes next to impossible to guide society into directive doctrines of transformation – leading others to Jesus Christ for salvation and daily directives for spiritual health. The Church becomes impotent.
Child development is centered and based on directives. Without these directives, the child is forced to establish their self-perceived “book of rules,” which typically causes them to be self-centered. By the time they reach the phase of Concrete Operational Formation (7-years), their logic becomes deeply flawed. While this is an important stage in itself, it also serves as an important transition between earlier stages of development and the up-coming stage, where kids will learn how to think more abstractly and hypothetically. For children to understand abstract reasoning, there must be a set of rules pre-established by an external source, as in the Bible. Suppose the child is robbed of these standards. In that case, their inductive logic has no basis for comparing itself, resulting in the formation of their involuntary self-rule system, which advocates a refusal to reversibility.
Reversibility is the most important developmental stage of childhood (teenage years). With a child raised in external standards, they know that actions can be reversed via a healthy conscience. Keep in mind that human conscience is formed through an external source of rules. If the child’s ability to reverse actions is flawed, their earlier childhood development stages become the norm for adulthood. For example, they will usher their comic heroes into daily activities as an adult. They display a graved appearance of “never growing up.” That is because they didn’t.
As a part of the transition between Concrete Operational Formation and adulthood, when authority figures, or their directives, intrude on the child’s “make-believe” world, the habit of resistive silence becomes their norm. In the counseling world, we call it “zoning.” Zoning is a subconscious mental system established by the brain to “cope” with directives that oppose their now concrete belief system. While many teenagers use “zoning” to ignore their parents and other directive authority figures purposely, it doesn’t negate that an involuntary resistance system has been established.
When these teens enter into full-on adulthood, their ability to logically function within the Conservation's final stage becomes impossible. A phase in humanity that God created for all humans saved or not, to share and give-up one’s personal space to others. Since their Concrete Operational stage is imploded on self-rule, their ability to be non-egocentric is lost, let alone let authority figures rule themselves. In other words, these adult-children are not only unable to start thinking about how other people view and experience the world; they lose their ability to assimilate governing rules when making decisions or solving problems. Each becomes their individualized island.
So, why are our adult-children socio-centric?
Suppose the child was raised in an environment of external rules, rules established by a bible of sorts, hopefully, the Word of God. In that case, they can understand that other people who adhere to a guide/standard outside of themselves might be correct. At this point, they are not only aware that other people have a unique perspective, but their perspective might be absolute and transforming. Their self-rule might be flawed. In other words, they can be evangelized and made new by the standards of the Living God. As we know, that is only done through the conversion process of receiving the indwelling Life of Jesus, who becomes their external source for internal living.
Since a non-compliant adult-child grows in their ability to manipulate information to match their now innate belief system mentally, they seek out a place for their efforts – as in the internet’s social platforms. While this appears to be a healthy arena for its mission, it is a one-way street. Meaning, they have no intention of learning or changing their depraved thinking but rather collecting ideas, methodologies, and ideologies that match their beliefs. When others front them with the complexities of absolutes, they're not only void of how to respond, each slip into resistive silence as a way of covering their ignorance.
Before Jean Piaget (founder of Cognitive Development) died, I had the privilege of spending some time with him. In this conversation, he said something interesting. He noted that each stage of Cognitive Development is critical. Further stating that if a child skips, or is forced, to miss any of the stages, the child cannot experience constructive adulthood. That people actively construct their knowledge of their worldview based on the interactions between their ideas and their experiences based on external influences, such as parents, school teachers, and religious leaders. After he confirmed that he was a born-again believer, I asked him if he would change any of his “theories” about child development after his conversion. He said, absolutely not. He shared the reality of his conversion was heavily influenced by early childhood teachings, in which he didn’t assimilate until the later phase of his life. I asked if he believed there is a direct connection between schemas (formation of an intellectual framework) and the probability of a person’s conversion. He assured me that early childhood directives, and its mental frameworks, also cause us to include pertinent adult information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ideas formed through our early childhood external influences. Without pre-existing teachings & directives, conversion to external sources is next to humanly impossible. It would require a miraculous intervention.
Piaget maintained his belief that a society without proper Cognitive Development would cause a world to implode upon itself. I doubt he would have viewed himself as a “prophet,” but his words became prophetic. We now live in an era where two generations have missed out on proper child development. As we gaze into culture today, people's pride level is so out of control that they comfortably slip into resistive silence when fronted with external absolutes – a mode of covering ignorance.
Maintaining respectful communication in an information age is part of the solution. Tapping into the Life of Christ to respond through us is the ultimate solution. Yes, it is true. You can’t respond to all forms of communication – it’s impossible, nor should you. It is imperative that you breakdown your communications into four categories – intimate, personal, social, and public. While today’s norm is public, social, personal, and intimate, this is not the proper order.
Intimate. When a spouse or intimate relationship sends you a communication, respond immediately. If you can’t respond for some reason, keep them at the top of your list.
Personal. When a friend or loved one sends a communication, respond as soon as your schedule allows you to reply. I have a general rule of replying within 48 hours when I made a note of the communication arriving.
Social. These are communications that arrive through social networks, emails, and or other sources of social outreach. Prioritize these communications. The closer you are in a relationship, the higher they go on the response list. My general guideline is to respond within 5-days. If they are important to you, and you need time to construct the message, send a quick message of “got it, will respond soon.” Keep your word AND respond.
Public. These typically are people you don’t know interpersonally. Most of these communications are usually from virtual strangers. I only respond to the individuals that send information that prompted transformation. An example would be an article I read that influenced my thinking. I will click on reply and send a thank you &, at times, a quick testimony of the impact their work had on my life. I have learned these kinds of public reply frequently lead to friendships. If they don’t reply, they go to the bottom of my list.
If information overload is an issue in your life, you cancel replies from the bottom up. Not replying to the first two categories (intimate & personal) is nothing short of selfishness and being rude.
We live in a society where rude is fashionable. Non-replies might be confessing you are indeed rude, frequently it confesses ignorance. If you don’t know how to respond, tell them. Or ask a question. Or get clarification. Minimally, send, “got it.” Have you been in a face-to-face discussion when the person you are talking to you won’t talk back – they stare at you? How is this any different? It isn’t. Use common-sense rules of engagement, in person or online. Breakthrough that nasty habit of resistive silence. If you do, you might find a friend.
Finally, there is a little more science hidden behind our resistive silence. According to our online survey, when people pray, they not only don’t expect God to respond, they admit not hearing Him when He does. They have been duped into thinking that their communications with God are one way. I can assure you that our Lord is not rude, ignorant, or non-responsive. But keep in mind that He responds with a whisper, which requires us to listen and wait.
Life is coming at us fast. Faster than at any time in history. The temptation will be to shut-out everyone. Don’t. Hang on to those important relationships. A few words go along way.
©2020 Eschatology Series, Dr. Stephen Phinney