Talk of the Town: Walls are divisive
Human history abounds with all kinds of walls, built for all sorts of reasons. The Great Wall of China -- originally built in 220-206 BCE and later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) -- may be the oldest original wall still in existence, yet the Berlin Wall is probably the most known and bitterly remembered by many of us today.
For those who’ve forgotten, or who are too young to know, the conclusion of World War II resulted in West Germany being divided between Great Britain, the USA, and France. In 1949, West Germany was established as a separate and independent nation, the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet Union, already occupying the Eastern zone, considered East Germany its rightful war property, and when East Germany finally achieved sovereignty, the Soviet Union continued to dominate it as a communist society.
Berlin, the largest city in Germany, was located in East Germany and claimed by all four nations; each was given a sector of the city.
By August 1961, the Soviet Union had begun building walls to keep dissatisfied East Germans out of the other sectors of the city. West Berliners were flourishing by then, but the walled East Germans were suffering.
Finally, in 1989, with mounting worldwide pressure, the “Berlin Wall,” as the wall constructed by the Soviets was known, was torn down, surprising Germans on both sides of the wall. They celebrated joyfully the wall’s destruction.
Nations throughout history have built walls for similar reasons, to keep people in and/or to keep them out. Either reason strongly suggests a “xenophobic” message, which, itself, tends to thwart any compromised efforts to amalgamate or understand and get along with other groups.
While people living on either side of such walls may succumb, as they are sometimes forced to do, to their leaders’ biases and negative influences, walls, themselves, become obstacles to expanding positive relationships with those regarded as suspicious strangers.
Despite our nation’s existence over less than 300 years, the United States is today the most culturally rich and prosperous country on the planet. Our freely interactive populous of mixed ethnicity and race has everything to do with this nation’s success. Never walled-in, Americans have, throughout U.S. history, thrived on an influx of immigrants from throughout the world.
Impenetrable walls tend to create obstacles to openly accessible, friendly communication and compatible interactions between nations. A wall also can intimidated those whose entry it prevents.
The specious reasoning of border wall advocates in keeping foreigners – including those regarded by our president as drug dealers and rapists – outside of the United States is both insulting to our neighbor nations and irrational. Virtually every nation, including ours, has criminals, yet they are markedly over shadowed by compassionate, law abiding citizens.
As for the drug dealers infiltrating our nation illegally, those crimes are incited by American demand for drugs (including opioids). Meanwhile, the United States already has sufficient Border Patrols and well supervised border crossings to discourage such undesirables.
Common sense, along with neighborly compassion, demonstrates that cooperative, working relationships with others is likely to collapse when you slam the door in their face — with a wall.
Larry Wonderling is a clinical psychologist and author of nine books. In addition to his private practice, he worked and lived all over the world for more than 15 years as a psychological consultant for the U.S. Peace Corps and World Education.