The space between us

Last week one of my English students here in Prague told me something profound.

This student is a Development Manager at an architecture firm so our Friday lesson usually consists of a discussion about an architecture topic of her choice. She’s one of those students who is not only eager to learn English but is one you can have deep, spontaneous conversations with, even with her pre-intermediate level of English.

As an engineer-turned-English-teacher who enjoys creative pursuits (and knows little about architecture), I find architecture to be a brain-tingling merge of art and science. Though we’ve only had a few lessons together, I can tell the conversations we will have in the future will span not only architecture but psychology, philosophy, and human nature. The kind of stuff I can’t help but think about all the time.

Last Friday she told me that architecture is not a building. It’s the space between buildings.

When I heard that, I had to stop for a second. I repeated it to myself. I had one of those moments where your brain starts firing, the voice inside your head goes whoaaaa, followed by a small explosion somewhere. I lost myself for a couple seconds.

I had a huge nerd moment as my brain made the connection between this profound statement and how we are as humans.

We’re each our own building- a physical entity in which we carry ourselves through the world. We all have facades we outwardly share. We all have our true essence inside that we show to some. Sometimes we’re our own architect, sometimes we are heavily designed by others. The cost of our own construction and renovation is stress and anxiety, much of which is unnecessary, but not all bad.

The part that really caught my attention, however, is how we interact with others.

What we forget is we do not solely exist as we see ourselves. How we see ourselves doesn’t matter to those around us. There’s a dimension we have to make a conscious effort to see- the space between us.

What really matters in an interaction is not only how we feel, but how we both feel. It’s an incalculable equation involving the space we create for ourselves by use of emotion.

The most life-giving interactions are those that are not manufactured, not forced, and not perfect. We all have our monuments, our emotions which most would consider positive. We all have our shithouses, which most people would consider negative.

Architecture is not about putting the monuments all together in one area. The result is a scene that looks like something I made in SimCity 2000 for PC back in the 90s- a crapload of beautiful monuments clustered tightly together (picture the Washington Monument, Giza Pyramids, and Eiffel Tower all piled next to each other on one city block) that make for an aggressive, over-stimulating visual that defeats the purpose of having such beautiful buildings in the first place.

I thought it would be really cool to have all the monuments packed closely together on one city block. Like somehow, putting them all together would make the block extra amazing and everyone would want to go there. To my dismay, my Sims did not agree. Looking back, my behavior now makes sense.

Putting all your monuments front and center all the time is not authentic. Forcing a number of beautiful buildings together does not mean it will be more pleasing to the eye. Putting all our best emotions forward does not mean we will be more attractive to others.

For some reading this article, the disease of monument-itis is mitigated only with conscious moments and verbal reminders from others that you don’t always have to be good anytime someone asks how you are.

What’s more appealing than having a city block of monumental buildings is having a well-spaced group of buildings that exist peacefully with each other. None of them are over-bearing. Each has their role and they know their place. They complement and balance each other.

When we focus on the space between us, we bring out the best in others. We make them glow. We attract more beauty into our lives when we connect emotionally with others instead of constantly thinking about how WE look to them.

When you’re having relationship problems, the best thing to do is to examine the space between you. How long have you been looking at the issue from only your point of view? What does the other person see? Are you able to coexist with each others’ shortfalls, or is the space between you littered with garbage in the form of toxic thinking (you ALWAYS [fill in the blank])?

We can only guess what we look like to other people. Which is why being honest and using authentic emotions with one another helps clarify the space between us. Honesty can be uncomfortable but avoiding conflict is like slowly letting termites eat the wooden frame of your house.

Sharing your shithouses and expressing your feelings about other peoples’ shithouses is not being negative, it’s being real. It’s what gives us life. We cannot cheat the natural balance of life by just being positive. Doing so adds unnecessary stress and uses a crapload of our precious energy. In the end, that which we avoid will always rear its ugly head at some point, often with more heads than it was born with.

The coaching and self-help world is littered with ideas about how to be happier. As with any goal in life, the harder you try for something, the more elusive it becomes, like a Chinese finger trap. Brief spurts of positivity are a nice way to build some momentum for yourself but not a sustainable way to live when things really aren’t ok.

At the end of the day, examining your relationships by looking at the space between you is the key to a higher consciousness and a more full, vibrant life. If that’s what you want.

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English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.

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Nathan Adlam

Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.

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