For those of you who opened this blog post expecting to learn the finer nuances of the foil, épée, and sabre; I have to apologize. Yes, there was that episode at the 1976 Olympic Games; where at the tender age of sixteen I became a global fencing phenomenon! I was recruited by an ultrasecret government agency whose very existence is stilled denied by the highest levels of our political leadership. I was trained on a remote Aleutian island to become a well-honed vehicle of justice. Now retired, I live under an assumed identity and am periodically called back into service! Oops, that is the plot of my latest fiction thriller!
Let’s turn our attention to a different type of fencing; artificial man-made barriers. The concept of parceling out land and protecting it from intruders goes back to the Medieval period of history. Walls were erected by nobility to protect their manors and the surrounding village of serfs. Out in the countryside, rocks were piled to waist level to demarcate the agricultural holdings of the landed gentry. In short, the fence became a convenient way to keep intruders out.
Not all cultures adopted the concept of holding and protecting land. In fact, the Native American tribes had no sense of land ownership. Their philosophy held that mankind inhabited land at the pleasure of the gods. It was each individual’s responsibility to act as a steward of this celestial gift. The earth was cultivated, berries were gathered, animals were hunted only for food, and the streams selflessly yielded fish for the village. No tribe laid claim to any particular piece of land; instead sharing the abundance to be found with all others who might pass through.
Imagine the horror the indigenous inhabitants felt when they witnessed trees being felled; as the white man built forts, fences, and all fashion of barriers! The thought that anyone would lay a stake to a piece of sacred earth and prevent open access by others was a blasphemy. As time went on, westward expansion opened the doors to barbed wire, corrals, and incorporation of permanent towns. As a final insult to the belief system of the Native American; we chose to set aside land, create artificial boundaries around it, and assign entire indian nations to live on reservations!
The purpose of a fence is two-fold. Yes, there is the obvious purpose of keeping out those who we consider to be a threat to us. But on the flip side of the coin, a fence also serves to keep others in. Wandering dogs, those incarcerated for their crimes, and children at play are all held back by our modern-day chain link and privacy fences. In some cases we even choose to punctuate our efforts with barbed or concertina wire! It is simply for their protection as well as that of others.
As if an artificial barrier were not enough, being the enterprising species that we are; our efforts are taken one step further. Signs are posted and alarm systems are installed. Other are warned that their trespassing will not be tolerated. Video cameras will monitor their activities and motion sensors will alert law enforcement authorities. In short, you must keep out; unless you are on the other side of the fence, and then you must stay in!
It is terribly easy for each of us to erect fences in our own personal lives. These do not take on the form of metal chain or wooden slats. Rather it is actions as simple as refusing to make eye contact with strangers or staying within the confines of our self-declared comfort zones. We fear that our most valued possessions will somehow be lost if we allow others to venture into our fortresses. We have toiled endlessly to become who we are and we have not hesitated to protect what we hold dear. We have a clear definition of what values and beliefs are important to us and walls will keep others from looting our treasury of prized concepts.
Unfortunately, these same barriers that we build to keep others from hurting us ironically allow us to hurt ourselves. Anytime we define a boundary, we restrain ourselves from venturing out past the safety of the fence. We lose our desire to explore, to take chances, and to learn from what lies out beyond our sanctuary. We become the lesser for fearing the greater that life may offer.
Almost twenty-two years ago, the most notorious “fence” in history fell. The Berlin Wall tumbled to the ground as tens of thousands liberated themselves from that man-made barrier. Are you willing to do away with the walls and fences in your life? I have an extra pick axe handy if you need some help!