The effect of space on people

Can you tell me what happens to people when they enter some of the following spaces?

A person enters a church, temple or a mosque; Suddenly, the person behaves properly, talks softly, smiles at people, acts slowly, becomes courteous and so on. The same person might have had an angry exchange outside, he might have bye-passed queues and may be considered rough. What happened to him when that person entered the space? Did someone tell anything to that person? Was there a leader who inspired him to behave well.

A person walks into Tokyo and enters a Japanese restaurant. How will the person behave when he walked into the city and entered the restaurant? I can assure that the person behaved in the best possible way even if he didn’t understand a word in Japanese. She would have been polite, courteous, followed rules religiously and behaved with utmost discipline both in the restaurant and the city. Which leader would have inspired him to behave that well? Was there a strong leader who influenced him in his own charismatic way to behave so well?

A person walks into the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai. Outside the roads are chaotic with buses and all vehicles going zig-zag, people walking the road from wherever they feel comfortable, cows moving slowly, pollution etc. But once that person enters the hospital, the person witnesses an unusual calmness, polite and service minded staff, orderly queues and a clear tracker on how much time it will take to cross each stage. What happened to all the people who behave so roughly outside to behave so well inside? Who is the leader who influenced them to behave well?

In all the above places, there is something that happens to people when they enter the spaces. The space makes them behave in a certain fashion without anyone telling them how to behave. Even if it is the first time they are entering the space, for example — a first trip to Japan, they instantly understand the expectations of the space, its smell, its texture and adapt without any training of any kind. People change and adapt their behaviours not at the behest of an individual called Leader but rather they become the leader in that space. They start to demonstrate the ‘lead’ behaviour without anyone telling them what to do. They become the role model instead of looking for role models. They take initiative, they become proactive, they take responsibility, they fix problems and they express themselves fully. This full self expression is not done through verbal communication alone. Some people do it through small actions, small gestures and small behaviours which they wouldn’t have done if they were not in this space. This ‘lead’ behaviour creates followership and since each person demonstrates some kind of ‘lead’ behaviour, it gets reinforced through millions of repeated actions.

There must be one or few lead behaviours that would have been created initially which would have manifested over the years to create a space. But more than these individuals, it is the space that creates a ‘common language’ for all the people who enter the space. It is not explicitly stated or written in the walls. The common language is visible for people to see everywhere through the actions, gestures and behaviours of the people once they enter the space.

I’ll illustrate a few other spaces for your consideration. A woman from a highly developed western country like Switzerland or Finland enters Saudi Arabia. Suddenly, she changes her behaviour. She covers herself with Burqas. She cannot driver cars. She follows every rule religiously but she also knows that she can get away with a few rules by bribing the officials. She doesn’t take extreme steps out of fear. There is no common language here but a common feeling and that feeling is ‘fear’. This space is managed by individuals called Leaders who weild power of unimaginable proportions. People don’t express themselves fully and they don’t lead by example. They follow others. They don’t exhibit role model behaviour. They are controlled by fear and they lack the belief that they can do what the leader can do.

The difference between the two different spaces mentioned above is the absence and presence of ‘leaders’. In the first case, the space is the leader and the space catalyzes people to equally demonstrate ‘lead’ behaviours without anyone telling them what to do. In the second case, there is an individual who dominates the space and people look up to that individual. As a result, they lose their self-expression, they pass on responsibility and they exhibit ‘follow’ behaviours. They litter the streets, jump traffic signals, act in their own self interest all the time and they constantly blame ‘others’ for the failure of the system without realizing their role playing an important part of the failure.

How might we create spaces where people exhibit ‘lead’ behaviours?

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