Recent political talk of a border wall has me thinking about walls in general.
My primary experience of walls comes from years of living and working in buildings composed of walls supporting a roof. Houses and apartments buildings, schools and offices, mainly.
I’m in favor of the sort of wall that protects me from the elements. Residing in Minnesota, there are periods during the year when the cold climate alone is enough to kill an unprotected person. Walls can hold in enough man-made warmth to help us all survive the winter. It’s more about keeping that precious warmth in than keeping anything out – but the walls also keep out the wind and snow, the rain and hail – and block the sun during the stifling heat waves of summer.
There aren’t a lot of wolves, bears or cougars wandering around my part of the world these days, but walls would exclude these predators too.
There are human predators as well, but humans are often clever enough to find their way past the walls that would stop a wolf or bear, and I’d personally recommend social solutions to social problems that lead some people to prey on others. (Another topic for another time.)
There’s a lot to be said for walls. Walls and a roof allow me to keep my precious books and papers dry. They give me a quiet refuge from the noisy traffic of the streets, a place to sleep where I won’t be disturbed by passing strangers – or predatory ones.
Walls in this sense are all about choices. What do we choose to keep close, to protect and harbor? What do we choose to exclude? And why?
Different spaces serve different purposes. A home is a space to harbor family and pets; many people open their homes to friends as well, at least from time to time. Some say ‘drop in any time – and mean it. Others plan the occasions. Some people take in boarders, some are more reclusive. Apartment buildings and hotels offer more or less temporary refuges to larger numbers of people than a single-family home could accommodate.
Charitable groups offer sheltering walls to those who can’t provide housing for themselves. More charitable societies embrace the cause of making sure shelter exists in quantity adequate to the need, for those who can pay compensation and for those who can’t.
We build walls to shelter our domestic livestock: barns for cows and horses, sheds for chickens and sheep and goats, nurseries and greenhouses to shelter plants. We build walls to protect our tools and machines: tool sheds and garages.
Some walls enclose business places: offices and factories that are dedicated to particular purposes and are open to the people who help fulfill those purposes while remaining closed to those who don’t.
We build walls to protect people, animals, objects and functions that we care about and that may be vulnerable to damage if left unprotected. We build walls because we care about the well-being of all these people, animals, objects and purposes. We build walls in the interests of caring for and protecting them. We build walls because we care.
There are public spaces like libraries and civic centers enclosed by walls, but open to the public – at least for certain hours and events. Market places, parks and streets are open spaces that serve the interest of a community by establishing venues where people of all sorts can come together to do business, interact, share common interests and travel from place to place.
It would be counter-productive to build a wall across a busy highway. But people do put up toll booths or border inspection posts. Walls and fences are also used to delineate the boundaries defined by legal and political interests.
When we attempt to shut some populations out of our public market places, what are we choosing? Do we imagine that one population includes only predators and criminals and so seek to exclude that element by excluding everyone else who bears some superficial characteristics in common with them? Do we see only competitors and rivals for our limited resources, and imagine that newcomers would have nothing to contribute? Are the available resources as limited as we might suppose? Are we excluding potential customers, helpers, friends, teachers, students, craftsmen or entertainers?
A border wall built for purposes of excluding one group of people from territory claimed by another group is a matter of political dispute – and if nothing else, a debatable use of the massive funds and resources it would take to build such a wall – especially considering how clever humans can be at circumventing walls. Might the energy and resources be better spent looking for ways to meet the needs of all concerned?