Sense of History: an unfinished draft of an undergraduate history textbook by Robert C. Binkley, 1939-40. This transcription is not yet fully corrected.

Distances, Geographic and Social

A period is the measure of a certain distance in time. There are other kinds of distance that are important to us. Things that happen near us ordinarily affect us more than things that happen far away. A radio in the next apartment may actually give us more annoyance then a war in China. This is distance in space, geographic distance.

There is still another kind of distance that is a part of our experience. It is called social distance. We speak of people being "near" to us when we feel a personal relationship to them. In this sense a person who is loved is nearer than a stranger, even if the beloved one is across the ocean and the stranger is [p.011] sitting on the same seat in the street car. There is a sense in which all men are equal to me, but they are not equidistant from me, in geographical nor social space.

Each individual is the center of the world. Around him are the people he meets in daily life. Some are insiders whom he regards as belonging to one of his own groups, some are outsiders. Beyond this ring, as if in widening circles, are people he does not know personally and thinks of collectively. And these also he divides in his mind into insiders with whom he belongs, and outsiders with whom he does not belong, into fellow citizens and foreigners, into members of the right party who have sound ideas and members of the wrong party whose ideas are unsound.

Each of the near ones whom he knows personally, and toward each of the groups of more distant ones whom he thinks of collectively, an individual will have some attitude varying from love or admiration through indifference to hatred. He does not always love the insiders and hate the outsiders. Not all who are near are admired nor are all who are at a distance despised.

Check this over as to your family, school, neighborhood, race, profession, and you will see that it is true. It is true for you, and it is true for each of the other two billion people in the world. Each of them, also, stands at the world's center.