Fresh Ideas: The illusion of fences hits close to home

Imagine all the borders you’d have to cross to find your way home. It’s like a set of broken, nested fences. Start in Mexico, then move inward, from the U.S.-Mexican border with its systems of walls and sensors, to interstate border checkpoints, down highways bisecting barbed-wired farms, to side roads bypassing the gated communities, arriving finally at your own two-by-four walls. If this system makes you feel safe or fearful, consider this: many walls rarely function as intended. Most are an illusion. Because what’s really threatening us is not the other person, but our own fears.

From a distance, it’s easy to see the illusion. For when Trump trumpets out “we must build a bigger U.S.-Mexican wall,” it’s clear why some might agree. The media’s disproportionate coverage of all things fearful, and the fact most of us lack the information needed to understand, and thus mollify our fears, over the complicated and messy inevitability of globalization, we’d prefer to hide behind a wall.

But when I watched a documentary on what life was like at these scattered border towns, I saw the often-missed importance and value of relationships. For portrayed in that film was the mutually beneficial and necessary give and take between U.S. and Mexican families, workers, service providers and institutions before the Secure Fence Act of 2006 further extended the wall. Similarly, with the border’s biology. There was much more migration and intermingling of species and the border, then, was more like a porous membrane and “niche” communities thrived.

So recently, when one of my neighbors texted me several photos of gates at nearby communities, I knew I’d be asked to reconsider a gate in front of my house and I felt fortunate I had this new perspective.

I live on a corner and across the front of my property begins a paved easement so four other property owners can have access to their homes, the most distant being about 1/4 mile away. Years ago, when I was new to the neighborhood, these same neighbors and I agreed to a gate to discourage traffic and to finish the look of a small private community. But, our energy and finances waned and we never completed it. Our small enclave is also a part of a larger neighborhood several blocks wide and long consisting of about 75 homes. And over time, I’ve come to befriend many other neighbors.

Last week, my neighbor came to visit bringing design ideas of their proposed gate. Was the gate going to be installed at the beginning of my property or just past it, he wondered. Suddenly I felt the messiness of how taking a stand can affect friendships and I wanted to hide. My opinions started to solidify. I felt the urge to point out why I was right and they were wrong. Then, I stopped myself. Because by defending my position and not remaining curious about my own fears I was merely building my own inner wall. OK, so what was my fear? Being rejected. That any decision would exclude me from the neighbors I valued on both sides of the gate.

Suddenly, I saw how I could simultaneously be both true to myself and strengthen friendships. I would let my neighbors know I didn’t want a gate on my property and I would also trust in the fact I wouldn’t be rejected. Fortunately, my decision would not prevent them from having their own gate — it would just be on someone else’s property. For now, if people or pets on either side wanted to come and go down my portion of the easement, I was fine with that. If in the distant future it became a big problem, I would have that difficult one-on-one conversation then.

I smiled. When there’s work to be done in our own backyard, complicated political issues simply seem that much less urgent and less fearful.

Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy. She works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville.


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