Have you ever wished you could know what someone else was thinking? When communication is reduced to meaningful glances, do you wish you could buy a clue? I imagine we can all bring to mind a time when we couldn’t say what we were thinking without breaking the unspoken rules of our group and how we relate to each other.
This tension between wanting to connect with others and wanting to be true to ourselves is so much easier to navigate when we have healthy boundaries.
You’ve probably heard the adage “good fences make good neighbors”. Maybe you’ve even seen a “good neighbor” style of fence. Instead of being a barrier like a fence that has all the slats on one side, each butted up against the other, every other slat is on the other side of the railings. A good neighbor fence looks the same on both sides and it lets a little light and a little air pass through. It creates a line of distinction without being offensive or cutting off the outside world.
Suppose you have one of these fences and the neighbor kid kicks their ball into your yard. The fence prevents them from running into your yard to retrieve it. Do you have any obligation to return it? No. Nope. None whatsoever. And yet, you probably will. We’re talking about a kid, right? What if the leaves from your neighbor’s tree fall into your yard; would you even consider returning them? These things seem obvious, even simplistic.
What if your neighbor backs their truck into your fence, knocks it down and refuses to repair it? You could get into a power struggle with them. You could sue them. You could ignore the problem. All three of these options gives them power over you. Your money, time, energy and attention is now invested in this person who has violated your boundary.
Because boundaries and power dynamics are closely related, I want to talk about the two ways one person gains power over another. The use of force, or the threat of force is one way people gain power over others. This can even happen unintentionally. If you look like people who are forcing themselves on others or who have done so in the past, you have an advantage in the balance of power.
The other way one person gains power over another is by consent. Politicians are voted into office. Doctors are selected by patients. Consent is temporary and it is limited. A symbolic giving of the “keys to the city” is not the same as giving a key that would actually open the homes of all the residents. The granting of temporary and limited power to someone carries the implicit expectation that they don’t take advantage of you or try to make their power over you permanent.