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Good Fences Make Good Neighbours - A Lesson in Boundaries

Updated: Mar 4, 2021


They say that good fences make good neighbours.

I remember reading this line in a Robert Frost poem in university, and I always found it a little disconcerting.

Really?  Good fences make good neighbours?

I, in my Utopian brain, thought it pretty primitive.  We should all live as one, no?  The planet belongs to all of us… who are we to divide it up into little grass squares with symbolic partitions in between?

Can’t we all just… get along???

Now I get it.  It’s all about boundaries.

A good fence has certain characteristics that make it good:

First of all, it’s strong.  A good fence will not collapse at the first sign of a gentle breeze, oh no.  It will withstand wind, rain, hail, snowstorms, farm animals, wild animals, even drunken rednecks. It’s the same with personal boundaries.  We stand tall and confident. We can’t cave in at the first sign of adversity.  If we do, then we’ve got work to do.  You see, if your boundaries are weak, people will walk all over you and your property.  They’ll play on your grass, sit in your patio furniture, even eat your picnic food if you let them.  If your fence is weak, they’ll take you over.

A strong fence does not “feel bad.”  Fences serve a specific purpose, and they carry out their purpose without “feeling bad” about it. Some fences keep things in, while others keep things out.  When you set a boundary, it is because you are making it clear where someone else ends and you begin.  It’s like the out-of-bounds lines on a basketball court… they just ARE.  You cannot worry about how someone will feel because of your boundary.  Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to communicate the boundaries effectively and respectfully, but you have no control over the outcome.  And that is okay, because this is where you learn if someone is respecting your wishes or not.  So, good fences don’t feel bad. Neither do good boundaries.

A good fence is CLEARLY a good fence.  When you look at a fence to see if it is good, you look at ALL the parts: the quality of the material, the fastening components, the hinges and latches, and most importantly, the foundation, which are literally your VALUES.  Boundaries are shaped by your value system - the principles by which you conduct your life.  The clearer you are about your values, the clearer you can assert what you want/need/expect, and the more success you will have. Therefore, your WORDS become crystal clear, because your boundaries align with your VALUES.

A good fence is well-maintained.  OK, so you have just set a new boundary.  Congratulations!  I can guarantee you that now your boundaries will be tested. The same issue will arise again, and you will need to repeat or restate the boundary you just set.  Why? Think of it as conditioning your boundary muscles. Just like our bodies, boundary muscles need to be exercised to maintain optimal performance. Be prepared for this.  I call it boundary maintenance.  If you want your fence to last, you tend to any holes, cracks, leaks, fallen-down boards that need mending, as the needs arise.  

Every fence is different.  Just like fences, we all have different structures, looks, functions.  My boundaries may not be your boundaries, and that is okay.  We just need to respect each other’s uniqueness in this area.  It doesn’t mean that one person is wrong and the other is right.  Just that each is different.  Can you imagine if all the fences were the same?  Can you say “Matrix”???

So yeah, I get it now.  Good fences DO make good neighbours.

And once your fence is a true representation of the real you, nobody can knock it down.

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