A simple message seen in London the week before Christmas. A few people protesting the government’s actions with refugees seeking asylum in the UK. They quietly read the names, dates and circumstances of those refugees who have died trying to find safety and a new home in the UK. I was shocked to hear how many suicides occurred after the refugee learned his or her asylum application had been rejected.
Sharing that photo on social media elicited many who supported it, with one person making the effort to point out that “Yes but sovereign countries do. And that matters a lot, whether you want to acknowledge it or not!”
My initial reaction, if I’m honest with myself, was one of scorn. I decided not to respond because I know we’re using different playbooks — I’m a Democrat and a Progressive, the poster is a Republican and a Conservative. Our worldviews clash, and there’s no point in engaging with someone who is so wrong and misinformed.
However, his reaction to a simple message of love for our brothers and sisters no matter where they may live, continued to needle me. Why would he assume I don’t acknowledge the importance of sovereign countries or understand that there’s a significant political dimension to borders?
Then it dawned on me —- he must think the same of me, as I think of him. That I’m wrong, misinformed, uneducated, naive, stuck in my box and unable to appreciate the nuance of any issue.
And then an “AHA!” moment —- there are different kinds of borders.
- the legal, jurisdictional borders between nation-states,
- the political borders such as the divisions between the Republicans and Democracts in the U.S., the Conservative and Labor Parties in the UK, and Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and
- the borders we create in our own heads every time we think about “us vs. them.”
Refugees die on boats that are sinking in the Mediterranean as they try to cross the borders between countries, while politicians cavalierly throw up political and legal roadblocks and refuse to engage in any meaningful sense with the forces driving the refugees to flee their homes in the first place.
The Israeli military sharpshooters are killing and maiming Palestinians every week at the fence (not a legal border) between Israel and Gaza for the simple purpose of protecting their sovereign country. Fatah and Hamas appear to be sabotaging each other and the dreams of a future State of Palestine because they have erected impenetrable borders between the two. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us!”
And I automatically threw up a border between myself and my friend on social media, refusing to engage with him, dismissing his comment, and moving on to others with whom it was easier to see eye-to-eye. Us versus them!
There’s no immutable magic in the geographical borders between nation-states. History demonstrates how often such borders have changed, and they will undoubtedly change in the future.
And there’s certainly nothing special at all about any political party, despite what the politicians may tell us.
But the borders we create in our heads are the most pernicious and impenentrable because (1) we don’t see or acknowledge them, and (2) even if we do, most of us are unwilling to eliminate those borders. It’s far easier to stay within my comfort zone where I’m right, or at least I feel affirmed in my beliefs. It takes work and perhaps a bit of humility to try to tear down those “us versus them” borders in our minds.
And so as Christians celebrate Christmas 2018, the message I want to share is to remember the Golden Rule, treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. I think that’s the key to breaking down every type of border.