I’ve just spent the last two weeks in the country – well, sort of… Anytime I’m away from chronic sirens, Starbucks at every corner, and mid-day traffic jams, I call it the country. I noticed a lot of fences there, but these were functional fences, fences with purpose, fences that I understand. So what’s up with us city people and our obsession with fences ? We put them up around wild stuff and call it “nature.” We put them up around our homes, our stuff, our kids, and our hearts, and call them “safe.” As I re-integrate back into city-life, I’m putting it out there that we don’t need fences as much as we think we do, and this includes international borders, which I think should also be scrapped. There are two other kinds of fences that are worthy of looking at: those imposed on us by our governments and the powers that be, and the type of fences we build and maintain within our hearts and minds. Let’s begin with the obvious ones…
You’ve probably heard the expresssion, “good fences make good neighbours,” a phrase from Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. Have a look around. Does it look like we’ve bought into it ? There must have been some seriously effective marketing going on by the fence-building industry; it appears that Frost’s words have become a universally-accepted truth. But if you read the entire poem, you’ll find that the writer challenges the validity of those words; I think it’s time we also challenge the assertion that fences are necessary, and turn the belief that fences make us safe, on it’s head. Fences, I believe, make lousy neighbours and neighbourhoods, they perpetuate a climate of fear and anxiety, and they get in the way of us living fully and freely with each other. I have a friend whose yard is not ringed by a continuous fence. His neighbour’s young sons frequently show up in his yard, as curious kids do when they’re allowed some freedom to roam and explore. I’d say my friend and the people beside him are good neighbours because they don’t have a wall between them. What kind of neighbours would you have, or be, if you were also free to roam ?
Nature dislike a fence, and this includes human nature, which brings me to the second type of fence we can do without: government fences. Hmmm, what ruling power doesn’t love these ? Remember the G20 Summit in Toronto last year ? The Canadian government spent a billion dollars putting up a temporary fence around a bunch of important people so that they could talk about important stuff without being bugged by ordinary people on the outside. Look at the mess that that created. Fences get in the way of meaningful dialogue, they promote separation, segregation, and secrecy. In addition to the obvious physical ones, fences also show up in the economic, corporate-friendly policies of governments everywhere, creating a climate of hopelessness, despair, and anger, which, at times, explodes. The revolts we’ve seen play out all across the Arab world are a reaction to the repressive policies of power-hungry, fence-loving rulers. Similar “fences” also contribute to the type of mayhem that erupted on the streets of Vancouver last week. The riot here was not about hockey, and contrary to what many Vancouverites want to believe, it does reflect an aspect of life in and around the city, where many people old and young alike, have been shut out of the club called “Prosperity.” Hell, a lot of people can’t even earn a living wage (now estimated to be about $19 an hour) and toil away in dead-end jobs for less than nine bucks an hour, thanks to a minimum wage freeze that has been upheld by successive BC governments for eight years now. And then there are the massive spending cuts for fine arts programs, public education, libraries, parks and wilderness centres which rob people of opportunities for enjoyment, for learning, for thriving. If these aren’t fences, then what are they ?
So this leaves us with fence type no. 3, those we have within ourselves. These can be the most damaging of all, and the hardest to spot. What do they show up as ? Fear, guilt, regret, pain, unresolved grief, mistrust, prejudice, judgements… anything that gets in the way of us truly connecting, with ourselves, and each other. Eckhart Tolle writes, “When you give little or no help to others or put obstacles in their path, the universe gives little or no help to you because you have cut yourself off from the whole.” Our internal fences keep us separate, afraid, alone, and desperately unhappy. What do your fences come disguised as ? Begin to see them for what they are and how they work against you or someone else. Notice it, take a step back, and ask yourself, “is this working for me ?” The dismantling of these inner fences begins when you start to see how they work.
I think we are so done with fences. Fuck’ em, all of them, unless you are a farmer that is, with a bunch of cattle, in which case you are allowed to build something to keep them in. Just make sure it’s minimalist in design so us city folk can get our fill of the country. For everyone else, begin to take a close look and all that contains you, all that RESTRAINS you, in your neighbourhoods, in your governments, and in your own ways of being.
Be foot-loose and fence-free.