“Good fences make good neighbors.” Robert Frost reminds us of his neighbor’s long-held family belief in his famous poem Mending Wall. Every year the tradition stands; Frost and his neighbor walk the property line rebuilding the ancient fence at spring mending-time.
“Why do they make good neighbors,” Frost asks his neighbor. “Aren’t your pine trees and my apple trees a natural boundary?” But the neighbor will not go behind his father’s saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The Great Wall of China, built centuries ago, protects the Chinese empire from military invasions. The Berlin Wall was used by the Eastern bloc to keep Germans from defecting and to keep others out. The DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized zone, is a 160-mile long by a 2.5-mile wide swatch of the most heavily militarized land in the world that divides North and South Korea. Walls separate Israelis and Palestinians. The US-Mexico barrier is over 600 miles of fence intended to keep illegal immigrants out of the US.
Closer to home, we build gates in communities that are restricted with key-code access, and erect fences in our neighborhoods to mark off our territory, give us privacy from our neighbors, and safety from unwanted intruders.
The logic of good fences seems indisputable. Fences keep little kids and pets within our boundaries, but more importantly, they keep the unwanted and unwelcome out.
But, who is being fenced out?
Imagine a White House with no fence. I’ve been on the outside, with hundreds of tourists pining for a glance, and I’ve been on the inside in the guided tour that was marked by its own types of barricades to keep visitors at arm’s length.
Sitting on the outside those gates, or walking through those clearly marked White House tours, reminds you that you are an outsider without much possibility of getting close to whatever is happening on the inside. Those barriers make you feel small, petty, and unimportant.
This is not a diatribe condemning all fences or borders. There are good reasons for safety, privacy, and orderly entry and exit points. The fences we build do have unintended consequences and we would do well to revisit them when spring mending-time comes around.