Pope Francis has been trending on social media, for losing his patience with a pilgrim on New Year’s Eve. A viral video shows the Pope slapping the hands of a woman who had clung to his hand, to free himself. While the Pope has apologised for setting a “bad example”, one wonders how the concept of personal space is lost on many people, especially when the person at the receiving end of their adulation is a public figure. Movie stars, or religious figures, aren’t these larger than life personas also people at the end of the day? Does their personal space not matter? Or is it true that leading a public life means having no personal boundaries?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Pope Francis has apologised for slapping a pilgrim on her hand after she pulled him towards her.
  • Did the Pope over-react? Or is he justified in feeling agitated?
  • The concept of personal boundaries applies to public figures as well.
  • We tend to forget that public figures are people of flesh and blood too, who deserve to be treated humanely.

Movie stars, or religious figures, aren’t these larger than life personas also people at the end of the day? Does their personal space not matter? Or is it true that leading a public life means having no personal boundaries?

In the video, that has gone viral on social media, the 83-year-old head of the Catholic Church worldwide is seen reaching out to children while greeting the crowd that had gathered at the Vatican’s nativity scene. A woman in the crowd grabs his hand and pulls him. The Pope is naturally startled and slaps the woman on her hands twice, freeing himself from her grip. Pope Francis offered an apology the next day, saying, “Many times we lose our patience. I do, too, and I’m sorry for yesterday’s bad example.”

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His comments may have come following backlash and trolling on the internet for his supposedly rude and aggressive conduct. But was he completely unreasonable? Yes, he is expected to exemplify the virtues of patience, unconditional warmth and politeness, but he is a human after all. Isn’t it natural for him to feel agitated when manhandled? If you feel that he over-reacted by slapping the woman on her hand, then imagine yourself in his situation. Imagine moving through a sea of people and someone just grabbing your hand and pulling you.

When we begin to see someone as a figure; a popular actor that you love, a revered man, or even a politician, we tend to forget that they are people of flesh and blood too. Their persona blurs their humanity in our eyes, and thus we reduce them to objects.

This isn’t just the Pope’s ordeal, but of numerous people who lead a public life and pay for it in terms of personal space. In this case, it was a pull, while in the case of many women celebs, it could lead to worse experiences. In 2018, Sushmita Sen revealed that she was once molested by a 15-year-old boy. “Because there were so many men, he thought I wouldn’t figure out who it was,” she said.

When we begin to see someone as a figure; a popular actor that you love, a revered man, or even a politician, we tend to forget that they are people of flesh and blood too. Their persona blurs their humanity in our eyes, and thus we reduce them to objects. An object that we need to touch and feel, to believe that we have met this person, or been in contact with them.

However, even a regular person has to struggle for her or his personal space in our society. We all come across people who do not understand boundaries. Besides, these boundaries are subjective. For instance, some people are huggers, while others break into a cold sweat merely at the idea of having to shake hands with ten people. How much body contact is acceptable varies, but we have chalked out a generalised guideline for it. Also, we often assume that other people understand and identify with our definition of personal boundaries.

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So where does one draw the line with personal boundaries? Should we refrain from any kind of body contact at all times? The best approach would be to ask. Just like you offer your hand when you want to shake someone else’s, perhaps you should open your arms and wait for the other person to make the next move, instead of pulling them into a hug. Ask a celebrity if you can hold their hand because while it may sound harmless in your head, imagine having to hug and be pulled by strangers, day in day out. And lastly, do not shy away from establishing your personal boundaries. If you do not like being “handled” a certain way, say it loud and clear.

Image Credit: KHOU.com

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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