Are you building walls or bridges?

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”
From the 1949 musical South Pacific
Rogers and Hammerstein

I’d like you to take a minute or two to think about this question: in your everyday life, do you build more walls or bridges? If you’ve never thought in these terms, you might not understand exactly what I mean, so let me explain. At times, we build walls that separate us from others. Alternately, we can build bridges to connect with others. So which of these activities do you perform most?

When I pose this question to individuals, they usually answer that they are bridge builders; they say they look for ways to make more and better connections with people. But when I call attention to some of the language they use, they admit to doing some wall building as well.

Do you ever talk about “them” or “they” or “those people”? What do those words imply? In my experience, it suggests that you aren’t part of that group. Similarly, what are we doing when we talk about a political party other than the one we support? Or a different religion, culture, or philosophy of life?

If you stop and reflect for a few minutes, you’ll realize that we spend a lot of time and energy building walls. We want to separate ourselves from people we perceive to be different and we only want to allow people who look, act and think like we do behind our walls.

The problem with building walls is that we isolate ourselves. We don’t try to understand others. My mother probably never heard the words of the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” but that was how she raised us: we were taught to be wary of people who were not like us.

Granted, there is danger in building bridges. You may attempt to build bridges with people who want you to keep to the confines of their walled-off area — their way of thinking. They’re not open to understanding or accepting other points of view.

But the greater danger is everyone continuing to build walls. The world is becoming more and more connected. We all have much more in common than we have differences. But if we only focus on our differences, we become cut off, isolated.

The problems occurring halfway around the world eventually affect us. Our current way of life is not sustainable. We’re consuming too many resources, abusing our environment and spending too much defending walls at the expense of building bridges. We can no longer afford to just build walls.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that everyone in the world wants to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But I firmly believe that if we achieved more understanding, we would have a much better defense against those who refuse to build bridges.

As my friend Mike Manes said, “We don’t learn anything from someone who thinks just like us. It merely reinforces us if we are right and multiples our ignorance if we are wrong.” We must start looking for ways to increase the building of bridges and decrease the building of walls.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.
Dale Carnegie
1888 – 1955

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor

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