Safety

If you live in urban settings, you might find a couple of things to be so much a part of everyday life that you likely do not give them a second thought: Locks and fences.

Both  are considered essential things in cities. You can buy them – or parts for them at the hardware store, drugstore or lumber yard. Folks who choose not to use them are considered eccentric or careless. Beyond the objects themselves, locks and fences are mental and emotional constructs. Feel threatened in your home or business? Consider a really big lock or a very high fence. And, don’t forget a really thick door and a hair-trigger alarm system for added measure. These costly things help to separate us from unseen elements and in this separation we believe we will find safety.

You might remember a phenomenon that emerged in the months following the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. This mad dash for safety swept urban architecture and though the movement was short lived,  people spent significant revenue in retrofitting inner-city homes by removing street-facing windows or any doors that opened onto the street. Optimum designs in this hiding-in-plain-site movement resulted in homes that looked like fenced warehouses with nothing to offer the passing mob eager for looting or burning. It was a modern-day adaptation of the De Medici plan – thick doors, and big locks to ensure safety until the crises passed. Could these establishments verify that this closed-in way of living brought them more safety?  To my knowledge, no follow-up research ever occured once the checks were cashed.

The need for these things touches a deep chord in many of us. Note what thoughts arise when I ask the following question:

What would happen if we took down our fences and left them down for a good long while? As it stands, we leave our fencing behind long after our reasons for erecting them have gone. Fences are one of the human races’ primary markers on the landscapes we inhabit or visit. Do they give us the security we long for?

When I first started kicking this question around in conversations, my sister and nephew weighed in and warned that without fences, the dogs and chickens would get out.  I probed their answers a bit by asking about how animals ever got by before there were fences (and locks). Their response was that the whole no-lock thing was just a crazy idea.  Well, I pursued, if the idea is so crazy, why are there ample examples of people who get by without either a fence or a lock. What is their secret? Do they lose out by their low-security approaches?

We are a long way from any broad-based shift in behavior when it comes to fences and locks. Most of the urban schools I’ve worked for have high and ugly fences. City homes often have fence-on-fence dividing tiny back yards. And, in spite of the ugliness of it all, I don’t expect a fence-removal movement any time soon. My real hope, however, is that I can take another look at automatic behaviors and see once again all that we surrender to without as much as a question mark.

Vision, by definition, is about seeing. Blindspots do not, by definition, contribute to clarity of perspective. Since living and learning happen in a complex context, it follows that we should at least beg the question about the way we do things and even invite discomfort to follow when we try going about our business in different ways.

How else will we learn to see the open gates with beginners’ eyes?

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