Ever heard that statement? Someone decides that he/she has reached some sort of limit, set a boundary, stopped an affront. Before that moment, supposedly all options were on the table. When lines are blurred, sometimes even an individual can’t be clearly defined. So setting boundaries is a healthy practice, right?
So then, what’s the difference between a boundary and a wall?
That simple question triggered an unexpected hours-long conversation with us. We started talking about the importance of setting appropriate “boundaries,” defining individuality, privacy and important limits. We talked about how creating clear “edges” can improve relationships. These kinds of boundaries tend to be created in words, body language, expressions, personality and social constructs. The rub is that the very idea of clear boundaries begs the question of staying “open” to interpretation, remaining flexible. Black and white may be too much contrast. In other words, at what point does a healthy boundary actually morph and solidify into an impenetrable wall? Often a clarifying boundary can become an unintended barrier—harsh and unforgiving, resulting in a loss of communication and community.
Walls are physical structures, that allow passage by permission only. Our homes are constructed of physical walls, defining and protecting our lives inside. They make us feel safe and secure.
Robert Frost says in his famous poem, Mending Wall, that “Good fences make good neighbors . . .” But this line (often quoted out of context to suggest the value of division) is actually lamenting a lack of connection and intimacy. The opening line of the poem is “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it . . .” So Frost is actually saying that a wall is unnatural, that Nature will eventually erode the man-made structure and break it down. He imagines asking his neighbor, “Why do fences make good neighbors?“ Before constructing a wall, maybe, Frost imagines a more pertinent question that he might ask of himself, “What I was walling in or walling out?“
Maybe if we develop strong personal definitions, we actually don’t need physical walls. It’s only when someone oversteps a personal value, that we respond by erecting something stronger, more visible, obvious. We might see and hear the symbolic walls being constructed, in a door slamming shut or someone retreating to another room of the house. If we respect an individual’s personal edges, perhaps walls would be totally without merit, un-needed. Maybe walls could be relegated to just shelter and safety, rather than barrier status.
Before Europe became the European Union, travel between countries was more arduous. Border crossings were comprised of agents checking documents to control who was let in or kept out. Then, suddenly, borders were open, especially in the Schengen Area, the world’s largest visa-free zone, made up of 26 countries. The agreement created seamless movement between member nations for residents and visitors alike. Roads had always continued between neighboring countries, but after the agreement, the arm and check-point that “sealed” the country in, was simply removed (or abandoned). There may have been a few geographical edges of countries, but for the most part, countries flowed from one to another. Nature didn’t stop at the outline of France to become Italy. (Although the famed French baguette seems to have been denied entry into any neighboring country.)
So, perhaps well-defined personal edges and open borders are really what makes the world a better place—something to talk about together.
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Schengen and Featured image courtesy of the internet commons. Drawing by M.C. Escher
All other photos/drawings/music by authors, or purchased from Canva