I’ve been thinking about this week’s blog for a couple of days now. There’s a lot more to say about boundaries, and maybe someone else can shape the many complex pieces into separate, coherent blogs, but that person isn’t me. I can sort out a few points, but the rest is just chaos, and that chaos contains all kinds of inflammable issues, such as parenting, corporal punishment, our justice system, religion, sexuality, morals, ethics, rape culture, racism, entitlement and patriarchy.
There’s no doubt in my mind that these are important discussions and ideas for all of us, but the purpose of this blog is not to have a shouting match or explore the different ways we can criticize, judge and belittle one another.
I suspect that most of us agree that boundaries are necessary, but after that point I see potential for endless violent disagreement about how and why we create and manage them. I do believe it’s safe to say that our understanding of boundaries is heavily influenced by our experience of childhood, by our culture and family, and by technology and media.
I have no answers. I notice that what I call my boundaries don’t work very well at times. I notice the conflict between what works for me, what others expect and what I’ve been taught. I notice a generation gap around boundaries. My 20-something sons see the whole issue differently than I do. I think some of this is due to differences in our relationships to technology, but I don’t know how much.
I also notice that a lot of my boundaries are around fear. As a single woman, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being hooked into GPS and map information via technology. It doesn’t feel safe to me. Likewise, I’m uncomfortable discussing my spirituality, my parenting beliefs, my political beliefs, my dietary choices and the color of my underwear. I’m not ashamed of who I am—I’m afraid of being victimized. I don’t want to deal with mean people, hateful people or dangerous people. I don’t want to attract the attention of a psychopath or a sociopath. I don’t want to lose connections and relationships over something like religion.
Then there’s the part of me that simply isn’t interested in what I call oversharing. I mind my own business—why can’t everyone else mind theirs?
On the other hand, surely we have a right to be who we really are. But where is the line—the boundary, if you will—between that right and violating someone else’s boundary?
A highly topical example of this is the debate over Native American team names in the public school system. Many Native Americans find this offensive and racist–and say so. The other side hotly denies they’re racist and cites tradition and their intention to honor the Native American people. It’s a ding-dong argument. I’m hurt and offended and this feels racist versus I am not a racist, back and forth, on and on, with both sides becoming further divided with every iteration. Broken connection, broken relationships, divided communities, hurt and rage are the result.
At bottom, it seems to me these are all boundary issues. Our boundaries don’t appear to work well. What do we do about that?
This very morning, I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons about this. We were talking about privacy in regard to technology, and he suggested that soon we may have to accept the idea of 0% privacy because of our increasing reliance on and use of technology. Everyone (at least in this country) will be equally exposed and we’ll have to figure out how to live with that exposure as a culture and move on, or we’ll simply self-destruct. I’d never considered this point of view and I’m fascinated with it, as well as slightly appalled.
Perhaps the chaos around boundaries is present because, as my son suggests, we’re in transformation. Transformation is inherently chaotic, after all. Maybe my generation’s ideas and beliefs about boundaries aren’t working because they’re outdated. Our world, our culture, our understanding of life, technology and science are dynamic, always changing, always correcting and expanding. Perhaps the world we live in today requires different boundaries and we’re struggling to shape them.
At the risk of sounding like an old granny, however, I think healthy, effective boundaries must contain elements of respect, compassion, authenticity, dignity and kindness, not only for others but also for ourselves. I think it’s important to remember that boundaries are about ourselves and what works and doesn’t work for us. It’s not our job to choose boundaries for others. We may have to defend our boundaries and others will certainly try to violate them, but that’s the only place our power is.
Interestingly, I’m reading a book right now that relates to this. It’s called Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. It’s a great book—well written, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it. The reason I mention it is that so many of our rules, expectations and yes, boundaries, are based on our beliefs and we have a tendency to make our beliefs universal laws. We all do this, one way or another. But take one of your central beliefs, a hot one like politics or diet or religion, one you argue about on Facebook, block and unfriend people for disagreeing with. Now just imagine, if you can, for one minute, only 60 seconds, that you’re wrong.
In other words, effective boundaries need to flex and change as we learn and grow. Otherwise, all we create is a jail cell for ourselves. We can’t change, we don’t admit new information and we keep ourselves small and rigid.
On the other hand, if we have inadequate boundaries our power is leaking all the time. We fall prey to all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, our integrity is broken, we fail to take care of ourselves and our lives don’t work very well.
I’ve been talking with people about boundaries lately (in the real world) and reading about them online. If you know of helpful resources around this subject, please share!
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