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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Line

The line keeps people from getting hurt. It differentiates us from animals. It keeps the social balance in check. It saves civilizations. It is also mostly a blur, often is hardly visible and is completely missed by people under influence.

The line is also very subjective. Your line is going to be very different from some one else’s line. Chances are good that your own line shifts depending upon the time of the day, your gastronomical balance and your mood. In fact, you also draw different lines for different individuals. Some lines are porous while others are unbroken. Some are straight and some take impossible dips and turns.

Despite all this, there exists a general consensus on what the line means.

What the hell is the line?

The line is that personal, subjective and intangible self-protection mechanism beyond which the concerned other person is not welcome. If the other person continues to intrude, then, well, s/he would have crossed the line.

Herein lies the dilemma. Even though crossing the line is frowned upon universally, yet the line is crossed almost all the time.

The first part of the problem lies in differential understanding of the line due to the numerous self-conflicting properties it displays (as mentioned before). Some animals are known to do a better job of drawing the line eg. by urinating, by defecating or by prominently displaying something as intuitive as a claw-mark on some sufficiently tall tree. Somewhere during the evolution, we missed the simplicity of marking our territories at the cost of being more cultured. But we gained one crucial advantage - any of us can invoke the line irrespective of our physical or mental prowess or the stench quotient of a randomly taken urine sample for that matter. In fact, a line is largely invoked because of the lack thereof. If you were a physically imposing personality, hardly anybody would be crossing the line with you anyway. On the other hand, if you were witty, you would be the one crossing the line more often than others. Fascinating, the line is.

The second part of the problem lies in the lack of consequences of crossing the line, by and large that is. This poses another irony. For such a universally understood moral crime, a lot of guilty people still seem to get away with it. This brings me to the various similarities that the line shares with a religion. The line and religion share the dubious distinction of being universally acknowledged but rarely followed to the point (pun intended). The line lends itself to different meaning to different people not unlike any religion. The line, much like the Supernatural God, cannot be bargained with once it is invoked (Try telling a friend who is messing with you – Mate, you have crossed the line; and then see how s/he fumbles with various lame attempts to salvage the situation). The line is also and often invoked as a last resort when you find yourself in a corner. Without the line or religion, majority of the human beings may find themselves without their moral compass. In fact, looking at the similarities, the line could actually be declared a religion.

The last part of the explanation resides in the fact that it is simply too tempting to play with the line. Especially since it is someone else’s line. Playing with the line allows you to come up with your own psychological assessment of the other person even if at a high cost. It is also entertainment at somebody else’s expense. Some people play with it better than others but invariably when you play with the line, you also run the risk of finding yourself on the other side before you remember to rein yourself in.

Whichever way you look at it, there is something quite fulfilling about finding the line, flirting with it but never really crossing it. I think I am going to devote the rest of my life to this pursuit.