by Serge Kahili King
Let's explore the concept of territoriality in humans.
What is a territory, exactly? It seems to me that it's a pattern of boundaries imposed on something by
individual decision or group agreement. That means an individual or group can decide or agree to change the
pattern. The pattern itself is established by a set of rules that define the pattern, so changing the
pattern is done by changing the rules. The rules are changed by changing the symbols we use to form the
rules, i.e. words, images, feelings and actions. When a territory is threatened, then, we can either defend
it, attack the territory of the attacker, suffer the trauma of invasion, or change the rules of the
As territory we can consider physical territory (the physical body, real and personal property); social
territory (family, intimates, clan, tribe, peer group, club, associations, other social, cultural or
religious groupings); and psychic territory (thoughts, opinions, theories, philosophies, plans, purposes,
dreams, memories, time).
It is possible to think of humans as basically territorial animals, and to think of evil as based on a
violation of territory or territorial rights, and good as based on an opening up or giving up of territory
or territorial rights.
Among the things we consider evil and worthy of punishment are the destruction, damaging or appropriation of
life and property; the breaking up of social ties and reputations; and the theft of ideas, the breaking of
rules, the attacking of ideas, the frustration of plans, the invasion of dreams, the changing of memories
and the wasting of time. Interestingly, any of these are less than evil and perhaps not evil at all when
done to a being not of one's own social territory. To the warrior-oriented mind, the invasion, destruction,
and/or appropriation of territory belonging to another social group may even be deemed as good, since it
expands the territory or territorial influence of one's own group.
Among the things we consider good, loving and worthy of reward are the giving up or allowing the use of life
and property; the strengthening and extension of social connections; and respect or tolerance for psychic
territory. Also the healing of territorial violations.
A curious aspect of human territoriality is how we sometimes assign human territorial concepts to certain
non-human entities and not others. For instance, many humans will acknowledge the spirit of a mountain, or a
glen, or an ancient structure and show respect for that spirit by asking permission to cross into what is
perceived as its territory. Yet, those same humans will blithely trespass the territorial boundaries of the
birds, animals, insects and plants who live in the area. The logic is something like asking the spirit of a
city for permission to enter and then freely roaming through anyone's home that you care to. The point is
not that we should ask every entity's permission to cross boundaries, especially if they don't think in the
same terms that we do. The point is to show how arbitrary our territorial ideas are.
Another such an arbitrary territorial idea comes under the heading of "personal space". Having lived in and
visited many parts of the world, I can assure you that different cultures, and even different people within
those cultures, may have quite different ideas of personal space. A "typical" American prefers to speak to
strangers literally at arm's length. A "typical" Swiss prefers a distance of twelve to eighteen inches and a
"typical" Japanese prefers about two arm's lengths, both of which may discomfort many Americans. Of course,
friends in any culture are usually allowed closer within one's personal territory. If personal territory is
violated to frequently it can cause severe stress.
It might be interesting to look at illness as a symptom of territorial conflict, too. Illness might be
considered as a reaction to a sense of real or potential invasion or disruption of territory. The fear
and/or anger resulting produce the stress that produces the illness. Healing would result when a state of
territorial integrity was restored. Perhaps different things affect different people differently because
their sense of territory differs, as does their sense of personal power in regard to defending or expanding
The different solutions to the problem of human unhappiness may be looked at in a territorial way, as well.
There is the path of control, which seeks to extend influence over more and more territory (Louis XIV: "I am
the State"); the path of release which seeks to give up all territory (Yoga: the master/beggar; Buddhism:
beyond all desire); and the path of peace, which seeks to reduce or eliminate conflict between territories
(New Age ideas: unity in diversity models, NATO, the UN).
The territorial imperative for humans seems to be to expand one's physical, social or psychic territory.,
and denying all territory is the same as claiming all territory. Assuming this to be so, what is your
territorial imperative? What can you focus on that will stir you to your bones, fill your life with passion
and purpose? Can you create that effect by your will? It would seem that you would have to if nothing stirs
you on its own. A good direction might be to carry on and intensify something you have already begun, i.e.,
to make that something into your territorial imperative. To identify with it, increase it and expand it; to
focus on it intensely and energize that focus with all your love, power and skill. Who knows what amazing
things might result?