Don’t touch my Stuff – As Seen on TV. A Meditation on our Tendency to be Territorial

050914The video below presents a scenario to which we can all relate. There is a biker who touches a car at each stoplight; as the clip progresses we see the driver become increasingly annoyed. I’ll leave the humorous end to your viewing pleasure. But as you view it, don’t tell me you don’t get annoyed by the biker; maybe you even want to shout at him, “Don’t touch my stuff!” And don’t tell me you don’t react with glee at the end of the commercial.

But why do we get so annoyed at seemingly harmless things like this? Is there some ancient territorial instinct in us? Is it a kind of animal instinct such as we see in dogs and cats, or in wild animals, or in birds?

Psychologists call these sorts of things “boundary violations.” But merely naming something does not explain it. It would seem that “rational” creatures like us would be able to conclude that there is no harm caused by a small boundary violation such as we see in this video. But the instinct to be annoyed remains strong.

Jesus addressed this territorial tendency on a few occasions:

  1. Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40)
  2. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Mat 5:38-41)
  3. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)

And thus the Lord counsels a kind of detachment from things, honors, and territorial matters. Certainly some defense against bodily harm or grand theft has its place, but the Lord seems to have in mind here those smaller things about which we can become so touchy and irritated. The Lord counsels a sort of generous spirit, less egotism, less obsession with what is mine, and freedom from the peevish mentality that brings us to say things such as, “Keep your grubby hands off it…you can’t have it…that’s mine…that’s my favorite pew, why are you sitting there…”

At any rate “enjoy” the video and ponder the mystery of how easily we are provoked and how uptight we can get. And then ask yourself, “Why?”

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