There’s been a lot of talk of “walls” this past year.
The president wants to build one along our border with Mexico, and there are the metaphorical walls between the haves and have-nots. They exist between people on opposite sides of political, ideological and moral debates regarding health care, immigration, racism and many other issues.
The human obsession with walls is nothing new. We’ve been building them for centuries to keep out perceived threats or to keep in what we fear losing. Most walls, sooner or later, come down.
About 10 years ago, a friend moved into a gated community and I joined him for dinner at his home. As I drove through the iron gates, I felt uneasy. My friend showed me his elaborate security system, designed to keep his family and stuff safe.
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I couldn’t help but think: “Why would you need this security system if the logic that convinces you to live in a gated community holds true?”
By that logic, no one who threatens you should be able to get in, right? So then, is the security system meant to protect you against others inside the gated community? This would mean that not only do you fear people outside the gate, but you fear your closest neighbors.
And I wondered: Where does it all end?
Lately I’ve been thinking of that night in the gated community.
The truth is, I’m actually more afraid to be on this side of walls alongside the people who want to build those barriers — people like the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville weeks ago, or many of the people who make their living on Wall Street.
The vast majority of people coming from Mexico (or anywhere else) in search of a better life don’t scare me.
The incarceration rate of non-immigrants is actually two to three times that of illegal and legal immigrants to this country. When it comes to educational achievement, 83 percent of the finalists for the Intel Science Talent Search were children born to immigrants.
Non-immigrants start businesses at half the rate of immigrants, and the rates of delinquency and criminality of non-immigrant teens far exceed those of their immigrant peers.
The fear of what we don’t really know or understand is powerful. The fear of losing our privilege and comfort drives us to do some of the most irrational things. It drives us to believe we can control more than we can; it leads us to believe that walls make us safe.
There are enough walls in this world; we don’t need to be in the business of building more. We need to be in the business of tearing them down, and in places where they persist, we need to chip away at them, brick by brick.
When we build walls, we are all prisoners, on both sides.
The mystic Simone Weil writes of two prisoners who lived in solitary confinement next to one another. A stone wall separated them.
Over a long period of time, the two found a way to communicate using taps and scratches. In that lonely solitude where darkness stretches into one long midnight without a dawn, the stone wall became the means by which the two prisoners came to know each other.
Walls destroy dreams, like the ones belonging to the “dreamers” protected by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Young women and men are willing to scratch, tap and tear down the walls that stand between them and success if we just give them an opportunity to flourish.
Let’s build dreams and not walls. It seems to me that dreamers will build a stronger America than wall builders ever could.
Tad Monroe of Tacoma is a consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org