Tumult starts to grow, and the protest gains more momentum. Our protagonist begins to believe that an uprise is actually possible and through his behaviour he starts to manifest this believe more forcefully every instant. Until he crosses a line.
The man steps out of bounds and this does not go unnoticed. Police gathers and steps into formation. With their eyes on the prize they approach the protester, drive him into a corner and arrest him within a matter of seconds.
Feeling boundless during the protest, our protagonist had fought for freedom and even experienced it briefly. Now, a reality needs to be faced by the man which is contradictory; he has become a prisoner. How far does one’s freedom reach in a prison? Soon it will crash into a wall, or be nullified by strict regulations.
The prisoner is confronted with boundaries and limitations, which very clearly affect what he can do. You can’t always do whatever you want to do. What a person can do and how it behaves is not merely affected by the person itself, but by the environment that surrounds the person as well. This way, behaviour can be understood as a dynamic relation between person and environment; between a protagonist and the prison by which he is bounded.
The prisoner’s environment has multiple kinds of boundaries. He is physically confined by four bleak walls with a great thickness and a barren finish. Two holes are punched through the walls. Both are filled with bars. One functions as a window, one functions as a doorway. These walls are very rigid and almost impassable, affecting the prisoner's freedom of movement. But at least, some light enters through the window. And on certain moments during the day, the door of the prison cell will open. This causes the rigid physical boundary to become more penetrable, making it possible to reach other environments; the prisoner can broaden his scope by looking out of the window, or by moving to the communal sections of the prison.
Besides the physical boundaries, an environment is also bound by social boundaries. On arbitrary moments during the day the prison guards make rounds, looking for anything suspicious. Right when the guards direct their attention towards the cell of the prisoner, another layer of rigidity is added to his boundaries since some behaviour may beinterpreted as suspicious by the guards and lead to unfavourable consequences for the prisoner. Besides the guards, there are other prisoners that will directly influence the way our protagonist behaves. His background – compiling his history, his vocation, his political preferences and so on – determines how he is being conceived by others. Prisoners with a similar background may become his friends, prisoners with opposed backgrounds his enemies. All this has an impact on the prisoner’s behaviour.
Finally, there is a mental counterpart to the confinement of an environment as well. The prisoner will go through certain moods during different moments. One moment the prisoner may
long to escape prison, but another moment he may become fearful and withhold himself from taking actions that might lead to greater freedom. During the nights, the prisoner’s dreams may offer him creative solutions to his problems, while when he wakes up, his mood could swiftly switch as he is confronted with new problems.
Our environment is confined by boundaries: physical boundaries, social boundaries and mental boundaries. The relations between us and these boundaries determine how we move through our environment, or in other words, how we behave in our environments. When I speak about movement, I am not just speaking about physical movement. It istrue that our prisoner can wander through his cell within his physical boundaries. Simultaneously, there exist constant movements within the social and mental boundaries. When the prisoner makes new friends and attains more social power, one could say that he is climbing a social ladder and that his environment expands as its social boundaries expand. And when the prisoner lays in bed, fixating his gaze at the same spot of the ceiling constantly while being submerged in thought, he may at once arrive at a conclusion.
In order to understand the possible movements through an environment, one could draw a map that includes all its boundaries and consequentially the freedom of movement that is implied by these boundaries. In this regard, architectural floorplans come to mind as examples of maps that represent our environments, even though they usually account for just the physical boundaries. To fully understand how a person behaves – how a person moves through its environment – one should make a map of an environment in its totality; the complete set of factors that determine the behaviour of an individual. This means that – besides physical boundaries – one should draw social and mental boundaries as well.
A thing to consider with maps as such is that they capture only a moment. In different scenarios the different kinds of boundaries may have a different scale, shape and solidity. All these properties are dynamic and change in reality, while a map of an environment is only a snapshot of these dynamics. Changes over time – shifts in temperature, occurrence of events, transformations of a building – will cause boundaries to shift, resulting in a different experience of environment. Some factors may diminish in significance, while others may increase. Our environment, in short, should be understood as a process that shapes new relations continuously.
Struggle and comfort
Our protagonist has experienced an abrupt change of environment. He went from fighting for freedom to living without any freedom at all. Absolute freedom and absolute captivity, the exact opposite of freedom, are only hypothetical concepts. But I do think that every individual is constantly moving between these opposite poles. Everyone – to at least some degree – is either trying to react against the world around them and is breaking free from it, or tends to give in to the world and is being caught in it. No one is ever completely free, since one is always confined by some boundaries. But no one is ever completely captivated either. Instead, everyone always has some leeway. There is always some space left, even if it is only a little.
Physical boundary Social boundary Mental boundary
The prisoner, is therefore left with two options. He could look for the boundaries that limit him, use the little wiggle room that is available to him, and try to break free. This is definitely not the path of least resistance. That would be to give in to his environment. In this case he would have to approve and follow the prescribed procedure forreintegration. He would have to remain only in the spaces where he is allowed, succumb to the social rules that are imposed on him and keep thinking within the box.
Putting it this way, it may seem to you that one of these options is good, while the other is not. This is not the case, however. Knowing the prisoner’s history – he used to fight for freedom – we could assume that the prison excites in him the anger, dissent, fear and agony which he similarly had in the introduction. The power nestled in these emotions could lead to him escaping the prison and setting himself free. But an elaborated escape plan undoubtedly comes with serious implications of struggle and risk. In this case, it would seem far more comfortable for the prisoner to accept his situation, serve his sentence and make the best out of it. Behaving in discordance to your environment will be a struggle, while behaving in harmony with your environment will result in comfort.
This latter is, I think, what the majority of us try to do most of the time. If we come across a red traffic light, we usually stop. If someone with authority tells us something, we listen carefully. In a library, we speak quietly. It usually makes life just easier.
I am really saying that the majority lives in comfort. The majority lives in a stable equilibrium with its environment. But a majority is not per definition the largest group of people. It would be better to understand the majority as a group of people which is most in line with specific standards. Rich, heterosexual, urban, white, and so on, are all examples of norms that are often taken as an ideal constant from which alignment and deviation could be measured. People that align these standards form the majority, people that deviate from these standards, in return, form the minority. Taking the concept of majority and minority as such, it is clearer to see that majorities seem to set the tone and that minorities seem to struggle the most.
It must be said, however, that no one is completely aligned with standards. No individual is a standard. Everyone deviates in some degree to these abstract ideals that the majority announces as norms. This means that everyone can be considered, to some degree, a minority. And this is a powerful conclusion. Everyone struggles in life. Some struggle more than others, but no one lives in perfect harmony with its environment. Everyone encounters discomfort in their life; everyone has felt anger, dissent, fear or
agony. And when these feelings have the time to grow, they become too big of a burden to carry along in a day-to-day life. But there hides a power in these emotions. This could be the basis for change.
After living in discomfort for a long time, the sun finally sets differently through the small prison cell window. Our protagonist awakes. As he looks around he feels that the room has become smaller, or he has become bigger. There is no space left, all wiggle room is in use. Something needs to change. And something changes. An outburst of energy emits from the prisoner and he begins to run. He feels like he could run forever, but suddenly decides to stop. He looks around, and is caught by surprise as he finds out that everything has changed. The prisoner has become free, no bounds confine him anymore. And he can finally do whatever he wants to do.
Every individual has to find a way to relate to its environment. How you do this is obviously up to you. Whenever you draw your next floorplan, section, or site plan take into account the boundaries that you put on paper. Which standards are implied by the walls and fences that you draw. And which social mental boundaries are not being neglected?