When I was in high school, I saw an ad in Time Magazine that I’ve never forgotten. Well, actually I’ve forgotten what the ad was for, but not the headline:
When you put up a wall who are you really shutting out?
I’ve not forgotten the Berlin Wall either. Officially, it was the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall. Remember Reagan’s line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”?
Gorbachev did not tear the wall down. The people did. It started with 13,000 East German tourists who escaped to Hungary by way of Austria. It started with some people wanting to leave oppression and go somewhere else. Like ripples in a pond, it spread and in the end, the East German government had to open the borders and the wall came down.
Walls can be useful. For instance, a good firewall for your computer is a smart thing to have. I don’t know about you but my computer is an extension of me. So the firewall protects me.
I’ve always needed protection. I’ve always needed walls.
But the challenge of life is to tear down walls, remove the barriers that shut us out from each other.
“For when those walls come down, then love takes over, and it no longer matters what is possible or impossible…”
– Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept
In tearing down walls, it is necessary to understand the meaning of empathy, to recognize and appreciate another person’s suffering. Then, do something about it. Empathy and action are the two components that produce compassion.
I have mentioned before that the Japanese Buddhist term for compassion, jihi, means “to care, to cry” and “to remove the cause for suffering.”
Around the world, people feel isolated. Instead of building walls, we should be trying to recover our sense of unity with other people. Buddhism teaches that not only must we have respect for others, a sense of responsibility toward others is also required.
Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche says,
“Others, who feel compassion for human beings, feel compassion for the human beings of their own country but not for the human beings of other countries. Then, some feel compassion for their friends but not for anyone else. Thus, it seems that we draw a line somewhere. We feel compassion for those on one side of the line but not for those on the other side of the line. We feel compassion for one group but not for another. That is where our compassion is flawed. What did the Buddha say about that? It is not necessary to draw that line. Nor is it suitable. Everyone wants compassion, and we can extend our compassion to everyone.”
In this sense, we can add that it is not necessary to build the wall.
We don’t need more separation.
We don’t need more thought control.
We don’t to be just more bricks in the wall.
It is up to us, the people, to tear down the wall, or prevent it from being built.
(apologies to Pink Floyd)