Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Breaking walls

Published in The Fiji Times, Wednesday 3rd February, 2010

When I was a little boy, growing up in Lautoka, my family stayed in a government quarters. Quarters #78 at Verona Street was opposite Ground Number One in Churchill Park.

This naturally made Churchill Park, and the creek that ran alongside it, part of my extended backyard.

While my father took on responsibilities within the park, as member then president of the Lautoka Football Association and the Lautoka Rugby Union or Sugar Festival Association, I contented myself with running up and down the length of the field, often with a kite in hand, imagining myself stepping in the footprints of the legends of rugby and soccer and perhaps setting my own footprints of the stars of the future.

In the corner of the park was an old train engine that I would play on for hours. I knew every nook and cranny of Churchill Park Ground Number One.

I even knew the security guards who would let me in when I was not content to sit on the roof of the house to watch the game, boxing match or concert that was taking place.

If the guard did not know the cheeky little boy from across the road and refused to let me in the gate, then I also knew every hole in the fence to the park as well.

The fences around Quarters #78 were just four lines of wire that formed the borders between our house and the road, the creek and the other government quarters on two sides.

You either crawled under (if small enough), or climbed over (if tall enough).

Hedges and respect of each neighbours need for privacy made our spaces sacred. My children have been fortunate in that for their formative years of childhood, they have lived in urban communities that do not have fences or walls around each house.

About a year ago, I was sitting on the veranda of my neighbour and senior minister's house one evening when my children came across to see me for the mandatory pre-bedtime hug.

The talatala qase commented to me that he was surprised to see the children not afraid of the dark and coming over.

My response was that they were brought up in urban villages and had not developed a sense of boundaries.

Of course, as parents we have had to teach them about respecting the boundaries of personal and residential space. At the same time it is interesting to watch their interaction with those who set such rigid boundaries in their lives that they neither allow any positivity to flow in or negativity to flow out.

Fences and walls are a defensive measure, to keep out what we consider dangerous or a threat. There is a gate through which people enter and exit.

It is not uncommon in this day and age to find gates locked not only when the owner is out but when the owner is inside as well.

Just as castles, walled villages and towns had guards who challenged visitors with a "Who goes there?" or "Friend or foe" these days those who can afford it have security guards outside their homes to ask the same question or an intercom system next to an automatic gate.

Walls and fences are also designed to keep people in, for their protection or the protection of others.

In days gone by, around a walled castle, fort or village would be a ditch or a moat of water with a single bridge leading to the gated entrance.

Boundaries are important for many people.

However, boundaries are like fences, you can stand at a fence and still communicate with the person on the other side until you are invited over or the fence is removed.

The thing about walls is that sometimes we build them out of a fear or a perception of a threat that is based on a lack of awareness or knowledge. We build up walls to keep out ideas, people and things that are new and strange to us.

Often we use the statement that these defensive measures are a natural part of humanity.

Watching my own and other children, I suggest the opposite; that in fact we are born trusting and open and we are conditioned to be suspicious of the new and different.

In many cases there is good reason to be so. With violence, rape, robbery an unfortunate phenomenon in our society, we teach our children to not talk to strangers.

But along with that comes the concept of not talking to, or even shunning those who are also different, physically, ethnically, culturally, socially and sadly today, spiritually.

We perpetuate the building walls of protection and build walls to keep out anything that threatens the status quo.

These walls extend deep into our psyche and high into our spirituality. Not content to build walls we now box ourselves in, closing ourselves off from anything different to the norm, the convention or culture that we are used to.

That is why we often find ourselves challenged when we are called on to think outside the box.

The time has well passed for us to remove the blocks that prevent our personal growth and development, and that of our communities.

In a sermon this past Sunday, a preacher called on the congregation to remove the walls that separate and build bridges that unite.

We need to call on the gatekeepers that guard the entrances to our societies, and as gatekeepers to our own souls to look beyond the appearance of a foe and recognise the potential friend.

When you shine a light on a box, the light will always shine through the holes and gaps, illuminating the darkness within. The force of love, positivity and truth will eventually surround the walls of fear, negativity and deception and cause them to tremble and collapse.

Let us brick, by brick, take down the walls and transform them into stepping stones and bridges.

"God is love. Perfect love casts out fear... and hatred. God's love breaks down walls that exclude and divide."

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