Many a politician around the world are telling us that the solution to all of our problems is to just build virtual or actual walls around us; to keep certain people out; to take care of our own and let the world take care of itself.
Ironically, this view is at the very source of our suffering in conflict, if not conflict itself. At the core of this view is an idea, a story that “we” are somehow different from “them.”
We generally tell this story of separation in four different but highly interwoven ways.
First story of separation is our identity. We identify as Muslims, Jews, Sunnies, Shiates; as British, American, Dutch, Indian or African; as black or white; as police officers, mothers, lawyers, psychologists or yogis; as Smiths, Johns or Vandebilts. In identifying that way, we believe (quite firmly) that these labels, roles and conditions describe who we are.
Closely related to our story of identity is the story of comparison. The moment we identify as (fill in the blank), we compare ourselves with others, immediately seeing ourselves as “better than” or “worse than” a person or people who identify themselves differently from us.
The third story of separation is the story of judgment. We believe there is a “right” way and a “wrong” one. And, if someone does not confirm to our idea of what should be, they are wrong (and we are right).
Finally, (and connected to our story of judgment) is the story of expectation. Expectation is our idea of how things (and especially people) should be.
These four powerful and connected stories build a strong wall around us. In fact, four connected walls, as these are, form a box. So, we view other people (just as they view us) not as beings but as things.
How do we know that these walls, that seem so real are just arbitrary stories and are not who we are? We know because we are not born with these walls. A baby does not come out of the womb proudly declaring that she is a lawyer. Nor does a child compare himself to others (thinking that he is better or worse than someone else) until he is conditioned to do that by the people that surround him. Likewise, we learn to judge ourselves and others and acquire expectations from our conditioning and the outside world. And, as we move through life, our identities, comparisons, judgments and expectations change. So, can we really be something that we acquire; something that changes based on our conditioning and experience?
If we are not our identities, comparisons, judgments and expectations, who or what is behind these walls? Behind these walls is our humanity – our need to connect with each other; our ability to feel; our experiences of joy, sadness, fear, pain and love. It is only by connecting with these universally human expressions that we can dis-solve conflict. And, by starting by experiencing and expressing our own humanity, we start by dis-solving conflict where it truly matters, within each and every one of us.
Building walls is never the answer to any problem. And, building bridges is not an antidote to building walls. Both are an expression of separation. The key is seeing beyond the walls (and bridges) and realizing that both are just thoughts and ideas we’ve learned. Just like we’ve learned them, we can unlearn and evolve and see what’s beneath and beyond.