Good Fences Make Good Neighbours Essay

In general, when you say this phrase, you mean establishing boundaries between you and your neighbor helps you both know how to act and respect each other's space and privacy. For example, if you and your next door neighbor know for certain where your yard ends and his begins, then there won't be any disagreement about which of you is supposed to mow that bit in the middle. More generally, if you've established that it's...

In general, when you say this phrase, you mean establishing boundaries between you and your neighbor helps you both know how to act and respect each other's space and privacy. For example, if you and your next door neighbor know for certain where your yard ends and his begins, then there won't be any disagreement about which of you is supposed to mow that bit in the middle. More generally, if you've established that it's not okay for your neighbor's kids to come play on your trampoline and make lots of noise any time they want, then you both experience more peace and less conflict. Boundaries can make for a better relationship between neighbors. For a more detailed (and scholarly) exploration of this proverb, please click here.

In Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," the speaker considers this phrase as he and his neighbor work on rebuilding the damaged wall that marks the boundary between their fields. The speaker wonders why they even need the wall, since it's easy to tell where one neighbor's field ends and the other's begins, but the neighbor keeps thoughtlessly saying the phrase ("Good fences make good neighbors") without explaining it, as if it's self-explanatory, or as if the neighbor perhaps doesn't know what it means.

The funny thing you might consider here, in the poem, is that the very action of rebuilding the fence together every year is what brings these neighbors together. It's why they're spending time together; it's why they're talking. By making the fence "good" again, by fixing the gaps and the places where it's crumbling away, these two men are actually being better neighbors. That is, they're spending time together doing something productive, not just ignoring each other.

This is really a very simple idea, but a hard one for a lot of people to grasp, probably due to the way our culture mystifies personal relationships. In the classic romance, the Other is only thought to really love you if they can anticipate your every need. If they can read your mind. This is actually an infantile version of love. A parent has to be able to discern the needs of an infant who doesn't have language to explain that his or her diaper needs changing, or has gas, or feels vulnerable and needs a hug, or whatever. It's a guessing game, but there's no choice. But once we develop language, you no longer have to guess what The Other is feeling, he or she can tell you.

There's a great scene in one of my favorite movies, As Good As It Gets, where Melvin is doing something very sweet for Verdell, the dog. An observer says "I want to be treated like that." What she's really saying is she misses being a baby. It's a fine feeling, because it really was, for many of us, great being an infant. But it's a bad basis for an adult relationship.

"Good fences make good neighbors" comes from a famous Robert Frost poem, and I think he's being ironic, but it's still true. If you want to really love someone, you have to always recognize that they are a separate person, and unless you ask, you do not know how they're feeling, or what they really mean, etc. The opposite is true. Unless you've said something, clearly, your husband or wife has no idea what you think. It's so boring to have to say everything, but that's how you stay sane and build trust.

Imagine a relationship as a circle, and draw a vertical line through it. On one side, write the other person's name, and write your name on the other side. You stay in your side, and they stay in theirs. You can touch, share, admire each other, tell jokes, share truths, but only from your side of the line. Once you put your presence in their body and start talking about what they think or see, you've just been invasive. It's a form of abuse, a violation, a psychic rape. Most relationships are complete sloshes, with people all over the place all the time, you never know who's where when. No wonder no one trusts each other! You can't trust someone if you never know when they'll show up inside your body, without permission.

Over the years, I've kept friendships with people who are good at this separation. It's how we get to be intimate, because it's safe to do so. The ones that have fallen away are those where the Other thinks they know what you really mean, even if it isn't anything you said or did. As Melvin said in As Good As It Gets, "this is exhausting." Keeping the Other on their side of the line, after a while, gets too much, and you choose to spend your time with other Others.

As Sting sang: "If you love someone set them free."

Same idea.

PS: I've been doing most of my writing last week on my Liveblog. I love it. At this point I think I will migrate my blog over there. Same old story on Scripting News, it's always in motion. For now if you want to keep up on my writing, you have to follow both blogs. There's a new tab on Scripting News with the full contents of the liveblog. So you don't have to travel very far to keep up. And of course the liveblog has an RSS feed.

PSS: This post is not about you.

By Dave Winer, Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 9:59 AM. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

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