Editorial: The barriers of insecurity

The walls we build usually denote weakness rather than strength, argues Joseph Evans.

One of the most obvious signs of weakness in human nature is its proclivity to build barriers. We tend to think our security requires the exclusion of others. Indeed, all too often, we think in terms of safety from rather than community with.

I don’t want to be naive. I am not advocating you leave your front door open or the key in your car ignition when you’re not in it – though there are places in the world where both happen. Bitter experience teaches us we need some basic precautions to protect ourselves and our property.

But maybe it is time we tried to change the chip, our own thought structures and those of our society. So often the rhetoric is about another group defined as a threat and against whom we must erect walls – be they physical, legal or social – to defend ourselves. They might be immigrants. They might be other ethnicities or religions. They might be other social groups or classes. 

Walls are built in subtle ways and often without bricks.

A mother nudging her child away from someone considered undesirable. Stories and assumptions passed down in a family or community. High prices can function as walls: an expensive menu card at a restaurant’s door effectively excludes anyone not able to pay. The current Cancel Culture is all about barrier erection. You don’t just keep people out, you lock them out and shame them to boot. 

Pope Francis has famously called on us to build bridges instead of erecting walls. But that also requires some prior demolition in ourselves, knocking down our prejudices and, let’s be honest, our insecurities. Barriers are frequently an expression of fear more than power. We build walls of reserve, of insincerity, of cultivated dislike because we struggle to reveal our inner selves, and so our inner wounds, or struggle to deal with others who require more effort than we are ready to make. 

I love, and often repeat, those profound words from Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful novel Gilead: “And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer.”

So, actually, walls express weakness more than strength, and their demolition can be an act of great courage.

It is certainly a risk but that is the risk we want to take and promote at Adamah: knocking down walls, removing barriers, opening to others in sincere, respectful dialogue – bringing in, not keeping out. Do please support us in this essential endeavour: by sharing our articles and podcasts with others, by writing for us, and yes, because we need it, financially too.

And while on, are there any walls you need to demolish?

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Fr Joseph Evans is a Catholic priest and member of the Opus Dei prelature. He has been a journalist and youth worker, and is currently a university chaplain in Oxford. He is co-founder and Editorial Director of Adamah, which he sees as bringing together some of his great passions: good writing, intelligent and honest discussion, and helping young people achieve their full potential.

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