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Of walls, roads and bridges

· Leadership

While America builds walls and fortifies its ground defenses at its Southern border, China builds roads in the sky and bridges on water. Whose kids have a better fighting change to build a future?

Good fences may make good neighbors, by providing a boundary to help prevent disputes and misunderstandings. But it’s time to look beyond the old-fashioned folly of such reasoning and dark-age mentality.

What is the worth of a wall and whom does it benefit? Walls give buildings form and in a house support roofs, floors and ceilings to provide shelter. But by themselves, they segregate and prevent human interaction and fellowship. Unlike a gate or a fence, which provide security and controlled accessibility, the sole purpose of a border wall is to keep distance and tensions between human beings.

History shows that border walls don’t work for keeping some people in and others out. No matter how high, how deep, or how thick, human creativity and the will to live will always find a way over, under, through or around it.

Border walls ultimately fail because they don’t address the root problems that lead desperate people to flee violence, poverty, and injustice and want to get in. They don’t resolve the deeper tensions or reduce the fears of nativist sentiments of people inside. They don’t correct the inequalities that motivate people on the outside to look for a better life and those on the inside to improve theirs. But worse yet, they feed on the imagined demons of those who feel a need to protect themselves from their own shortcomings and fears by, in the words of Robert Frost, “having the rabbit[s] out of hiding to please the yelping dogs”.

There are no “Mending Walls”. Walls don’t mend; they tear apart. Again quoting Robert Frost, “something there is that does not love a wall.” That something is the drive for freedom and productivity that encourages people to overcome challenges. For those inside, a wall confines and wastes billions of tax dollars that could be spent on improving their lives. But for those outside, a wall “sends the frozen-ground-swell under it” and offers a challenging framework within which to work through concerted action with others. So, paraphrasing Frost, before building a wall, we must know what is being walled in or walled out, and to whom offense is being given.

Walls lead a country to implode. Roads and bridges, on the other hand, play an important role in connecting people and are crucial to help a nation grow and develop. Roads provide access to employment, social, health and education services and in a network are crucial in fighting against poverty. Bridges allow roads and railroads to cross over otherwise impassable obstacles such as rivers, valleys, mountains, or other roads. Together, they enable the trade of goods and ideas and facilitate communication among individuals and communities.

While a wall symbolizes a barrier that divides and excludes, roads and bridges unify and together offer a framework for building mutual trust, communication and goodwill to achieve progress. Roads are a place for travel and, as a place of both transience and danger, symbolize life’s journey, the human drive to keep moving, to keep surviving and go forward no matter the circumstances. Bridges symbolize progress, connections, and stability.  

What is more impressive? China’s roads and bridges with Pakistan or America’s proposed border wall with Mexico?

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, UpBoost LLC

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