[Opinion] On Fences, Boundaries and Good Neighbors

Does the admonition my mother gave me during my childhood still ring true in an era of refugees, immigration and fears?

Natural boundaries have existed since the dawn of human existence to separate “them” from “us” and, once Dunbar’s Number kicked in at scale, political boundaries existed as stories that developed into myths designed to separate “us” from “them.”

In the 21st century though, the illusion of noise as communication has convinced many people that boundaries (natural and otherwise) are the provenance of a time long past, and a people long dead.

The ability to erect an artificial barrier(anyone remember the Maginot Line) or to manipulate a natural one (“Don’t bring troops across the Rubicon River…”) has always acted as a trigger in the human psyche to the prelude for greater conflict. This is not necessarily always cast in military or political terms but, as human beings are conflict prone and naturally political, it often comes across in such ways.

And then we throw race, gender, national origin and culture into the mix and things get really dicey.

Which leads me back to my mother. When I was a child and my two sisters and I would have a conflict, unless we could work it out between ourselves (most often we could) my mother would separate us with the admonition that “Good fences make good neighbors,” and would put use each in our rooms—with the doors closed. This would precipitate a “cooling off” period before the real negotiation/resolution would begin.

Political boundaries existed as symbols, designed to protect and grow cultural stories around “us” and “them” and to allow people in charge to manipulate power, create conflicts, control resources and at the furthest end, start larger conflicts.

This all seems so illusory in an era of the 24/7/365 news cycle and the false dichotomies of conflicts. But in the world that average people live in, fences, borders and boundaries are still fiercely enforced, from families to neighborhoods and even at scale. And without such stories—which is all that those political boundaries really are—the chances of conflicts arising and becoming more virulent as those stories change and grow due to the reactions to the human choices to make war, migrate, emigrate or to have fears, is more and more likely.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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