Boundaries are vital to our identity. Without them, individually or collectively, there is no “me” or “us”. On the other hand, if we close them off, we become isolated. We get no information from the world outside and end up in a world defined by the stories we tell ourselves whilst we atrophy. In the natural world, all cells have semi-permeable boundaries that manage this process – letting enough in to nurture and be aware of their surroundings, but not so much that they lose their sense of who they are and their function in the scheme of things.
In nature, cells respond to the conditions around them in real-time and in line with their genetic instructions. We humans, on the other hand, are very different. We react to stories, not reality. Stories we tell ourselves based on stories told to us by others. Depending on what’s happening, they can be stories that inspire generosity, or, unfortunately, more often ones that trigger fear and defensiveness. In today’s conditions of uncertainty, fear and defensiveness is uppermost and playing out around us.
There is no shortage of stories crafted and targeted by skilled people to play to these fears, with impoverished, bipartisan politics the result. So it is down to us to set our boundaries, decide who we let inside them, and venture outside them to widen our horizons. Doing that requires us to slow down and take the time to have unhurried conversations and to take the time to think. Unfortunately, when it comes to being efficient, dialogue and thinking are two areas where efficiency is toxic. It might be easier to accept those well-crafted stories designed to benefit someone else’s plan when we are under pressure, but they will get us lost.
The pandemic has brought to our attention the stories fed to us as “normal” that have proved to be false, from the importance of the office to mindless consumption of trivia. We face more considerable challenges now and are much more aware of them. We can no longer allow ourselves to be swept along.
Boundaries are important. We should set our own, as well as be our own gatekeepers. It is too important to delegate.
I think this is an important topic that will be a theme in my writing for a while. If you’de like to contribute and share ideas, I’m co-hosting an unhurried conversation with Johnnie Moore on 5th August. Slow down for an hour and join us.