My son recently started saying “me” and “I” with great frequency. He shouts “Help me” when he falls down, “I want” when he desires a specific activity, or points to something he’s playing with or eating saying “me, me,” as in mine. I love it. He is learning how to develop and express his needs, wants, and preferences. He is finding himself, he is learning about where I end and he begins, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
Recent studies on childhood development suggest that children aren’t cognitively ready to understand the concept of sharing until they are at least three or four. That doesn’t mean they can’t act kindly toward other children at younger ages, it just means they don’t understand what it means to share themselves and their belongings. To the child soul these enforced episodes of “sharing” are confusing invasions on their fragile and developing personhood. Yet most of us parents follow our children around, managing their social interactions and begging them to share anyway. Typically, these futile interactions with toddlers just end in tears for all.
Children can’t share until they first learn to possess. They can’t fully give until they first understand what it means to receive, and then to own. Before they can grow into their social skills, they must first grow into an understanding of their individuality. Learning to say “me” is crucial for valuing “you.” A key part of developing as people is understanding where we end and others begin.
It is in finding out what it means to be me and not my mother, my father, my siblings, or other family members and friends, that we equip ourselves with the ability to become healthy individuals and learn how to interact with the world. Relationships, even in their most foundational and early states, need borders.
For those who still believe in the need for defined boundaries – personal and national – in our increasingly borderless world, who recognize that sometimes “no” is said with deep love, this one is for you.
We need borders in order to know and love ourselves. Self-autonomy is a foundational component of healthy living. In order to love ourselves we must rule ourselves. In order to rule ourselves, and protect ourselves from abuse, we must define ourselves. We need to know what is ours and what is not. We need to own all that is unique and personal about our body, soul, and mind. As we grow into this knowing, we grow into an appreciation for who we are and who we were created to be, as well as an acceptance of who and what we are not.
We cannot love that which we cannot define or differentiate. If I don’t know where my body ends and yours begins, how can I properly take care of myself without trying to involve you in the process? If I don’t know what my opinions are in contrast to your opinions, how can I think for myself? If I cannot express or choose my own likes or wants but rather let you choose them for me, how can I become autonomous? If I can’t distinguish my rights and responsibilities from yours, how can I adequately protect myself from being used or from seeking to use and abuse others?
Boundaries are a foundational component of personhood, just as borders are an existential necessity of statehood. In contemplating the current debate regarding the electoral success of Brexit, the British campaign to leave the EU, I was struck by these similarities.
C.S. Lewis writes in powerful terms about the proper love for country and the many ways this type of love can be distorted in Chapter 2 of The Four Loves. He begins by describing a love of home, a Need-love or natural love, which can develop for the place where you were born or for the many places where you choose to live over the course of your life. It is a love of the familiar and a love for the unique ways that your home conjours up that special feeling of comfort and belonging. The foods, the customs, the peculiar ways life is lived, and how it is governed, all of these features uniquely shape the lives of those who dwell therein.
To define these facets of our home(s) and to cherish them is to love them for their own sake. He notes:
Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.
If foreigners were to invade and rule our home country and try to impose their customs on our way of life, Lewis continues, we would rightly call for a defense. Likewise, it is not evil to defend yourself against those who would seek to control you – as an autonomous adult – in how to speak, dress, eat, think, and feel. To merely love your home, your country, for all of the unique qualities and charming familiarities, to be willing to defend your home when threatened because of that love, is not evil.
Of course, love of country can be used for evil, just as love of self can turn demonic and cause innumerable pain. But to purely love that which is distinct and familiar, to love that which differentiates our homes or ourselves from others, is natural and necessary.
If you cannot define aspects of a country that make it unique, if you cannot say where that country ends and another begins, then how can you love it? What are you loving, protecting, or identifying with if not specific attributes, perspectives, or customs found within a distinct border? People need to know where they begin and others end. They need to appreciate those features that are uniquely theirs, and so, too, do countries. We need borders in order to know and love ourselves.
We need to define ourselves in order to love others. A significant part of being able to extend beyond ourselves in love for another person is to first know who and what we are. Without that knowledge we easily become codependent or domineering in our relationships. After I understand what it means to be “me,” as my son is so crucially discovering at the age of two, I can understand and appreciate what it means for you to be you. This is the foundation of empathy.
Lewis aptly observes how this principle works with love for country:
How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs–why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.
Properly balanced loves – both for who we are and for who or what we identify with – help us appreciate how others are different. The common bond between all people is not that we share the same ideas or foods or preferences, but that we all possess the ability to have our own ideas, like our own foods, and live out our own preferences. We share in our ability to love the particular, the specific, the defined, and the uniquely ours.
The problem comes when we want everyone else to think and act just as we do. Or when we believe that all people should live in the same way and share our same customs, priorities, and values. Our contemporary society is perilously edging closer to creating a world where borders, be they personal or communal, are no longer recognized or respected. It is not enough to be left alone to live as we choose in our own homes, or in our own countries, for this is considered an offense or an affront to “humanity.” But more on that later.
Because we are losing an understanding of borders we are losing an appreciation for differences – ironic in a world that supposedly loves “diversity.” We cannot understand, appreciate, or defend the differences of other people if we lose the language and freedom that allows us to understand, appreciate, and define ourselves as distinct entities.
There is no need to be threatened by the fact that others choose or value something different than us. Rather, through the experience of defining our own loves we can come to understand how someone else might appreciate foreign things or come to differing conclusions. We need to define ourselves in order to love others.
Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love. True evils result from the debasement of our loves. One such evil particularly prone to surface in our abuses of how we love our ourselves and our countries is that of a superiority to those who are different. It is a distortion of our proper loves to see ourselves as greater than others.
Keep in mind the admonition in 1 Corinthians that all members of the body are to be valued and cherished no matter the roles they provide. That is the image of love we are to follow. When such love is malformed, replaced by human rankings and castes, and taken to the extremes, it can lead to racism, improper dominion, and dehumanization.
Lewis addresses this type of superiority as “not a sentiment but a belief.” When love of country goes wrong it is no longer is capable of loving the other, and therefore ceases to properly love, or truthfully understand, itself. He recounts:
I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, “But, sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?” He replied with total gravity–he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar–“Yes, but in England it’s true.” To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid.
Lewis also notes how this type of superiority is tied to our understanding of history. It is all well and good to derive a certain appreciation for the fables and strengths of our unique pasts. Yet it is downright unloving to believe that any country, just like any person, is lacking the presence of ugly betrayals, persecutions, and failures as facts in their own history. The mere presence of failure or darkness is no reason to stop loving our countries or our persons. But acknowledgment of our past mistakes act as a cautionary restriction to temper our appreciation for ourselves and help us view other people or nations with compassion.
As regards Brexit, so far as a person in the UK loves their country for its unique otherness, they have done nothing wrong or evil to assert that autonomy. Many are suggesting they wish to define and control the borders and governance of their own nation. Ownership of our personal lives, property, or country – and a desire to protect what we own if trespassed in some way – is not wrong. It is a natural part of life.
The potential evil is found in those forces who wish for the British to leave the EU because they believe themselves somehow inherently superior to other nations, or to people who come to their country from other parts of the world. To leave lacking an appreciation for those who wish to remain, to leave lacking respect for those who live differently, is where the danger lies.
No doubt that within the British electorate there are those who sought to define their nation’s boundaries on the premise of hatred and superiority. But there are also those who merely wished to ensure the right for all British people, regardless of ethnicity or personal history, to choose how to rule and define themselves going into the future.
A question for the British citizenry as they work towards meting out the consequences of the vote to Leave is this: just how many of their own possess hatred for others vs healthy love for country? As I expect they shall discover, not all people who love their county and wish to possess, rule, and protect it are racist xenophobic bigots.
Knowing yourself, and standing up for the right to control that self is not wrong. Misunderstanding yourself and your history, believing that you can justly control and lord over others beyond your borders, or to hurt and belittle those who are different within, is the true problem. Where this evil exists, it ought to be noted and condemned. You cannot love your country if you hate all other countries, just as you cannot love yourself if you hate all other people. Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love.
Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary. It is not uncommon in the course of our relationships to realize that we need to realign how we interact with others. Typically this need arises for our own protection. Sometimes we need to say no because we too often say yes. Sometimes we need to say no because what is asked of us invades our personhood or our rightly ordered places of autonomy. Often these “no’s” come after realizing that somewhere along the way we failed to sufficiently understand, define, and advocate for our own limits.
We need to correct relationships that overstep proper borders in order to preserve our own sense of self. Such redefinitions can be difficult and often are not without some type of relational cost. Yet the assertion of our boundaries, and the ability to properly rule ourselves, is typically required for our ability to survive and thrive into the future. Redefinitions of borders are necessary in order to continue loving ourselves, and thereby necessary for enlarging our ability to love others.
In the context of love of country, Brexit provides an example of how a nation might need to reassert their borders, and their control thereof, to ensure survival as a distinct state. Again, where that redefinition of borders is motivated by a hatred of others it is wrong. But where it is founded in a healthy love of self it is understandable and legitimate.
One of the great blessings in choosing ownership and love of self is the ability to control how we use and manage our borders. Merely asserting autonomy is not a decision to shut-out all people or to advocate isolation from the world. In fact, rightly ordered personal autonomy can help us extend more grace and love to others.
We can love even as we seek to protect ourselves from those who would misuse or abuse us and our borders. Just because people who transgress our boundaries or who disrespect our natural rights to self-governance are put at a new distance, does not that mean we have to close ourselves off to all relationships.
Those who respect our attempts to redefine our borders as we grow into our autonomy over the years are our dearest friends and allies. Those who find offense at our choice to live, think, feel, believe, and govern differently are probably not of the sort we should hold nearest and dearest, or allow unlimited access to our lives or countries, in the first place. The choice to protect ourselves from invasions, even of a bureaucratic nature, is natural and reasonable.
The British people now have a collective opportunity and responsibility to rise to the challenge of redefinition of borders. This task is not just for those who voted Leave, but also for those who voted Remain. There is room for a multitude of ways to walk out the process of leaving the EU behind and reasserting the independence of the United Kingdom (or the individual statehood of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).
These choices are much like those presented to the character played by Julia Roberts in the film Runaway Bride. Chronically co-dependant in her relationships, she needed an opportunity to step back and choose for herself something as small as the way she liked to eat eggs, for she had always ordered whatever her string of fiancee’s liked as her own. In the end she decided she didn’t actually like eggs, not in any form. This is exactly the kind of process we all go through when we need to step back, individually or collectively, and redefine ourselves and our boundaries.
The task when undergoing efforts to reclaim our borders is to stay grounded in a healthy love for identity of self and to see this self-love as a means to respect and understand others. This task does not preclude the hardships that come during seasons where we must define and assert our borders. There will always be prices paid and sacrifices made when reasserting ourselves as other and unique. But the costs are well worth the price of staying whole and distinct, be it in our personhood or our chosen statehood. Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary.
Without borders we lose our identity and thereby our purpose. In spite of all these truths, there is a prevailing trend in our society to suggest that borders themselves are the cause of conflict. Confident and unique identity, be it personal or national, is perceived as a threat to harmony and peace. Because our loves are often distorted and abused in practice, all loves for the particular are held in suspicion. It is thought better to leave boundaries aside all together, or to not stand up for them when threatened, for that is surely the best path to peace, harmony, and relationships.
It is argued that we must all come to believe, act, govern, and live the same way, for this is the inevitable and desirable end of mankind on earth. Those who resist progress toward an enlightened multicultural cosmopolitan borderless society are bigoted, backwards, or even considered aggressive for merely thinking or choosing differently than their neighbors.
Perhaps the precedent for this type of thinking began in our contemporary society with traditionalists forcibly trying to keep a status quo of the past. But now aggression with no respect for borders belongs to the intolerant tolerance found within our progressive globalism.
Lewis deals with this concept as well, noting that without borders countries and people are left with a “false transcendence,” one where the only recourse left for mankind is in “presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light”:
If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds–wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine–I become insufferable…If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.
If we cannot love and define our country as unique and separate, we risk putting our actions out of order. Wars are no longer just about protecting boundaries and homes, they are about defending universals. Relationships cease to be about respecting and interacting with individuals, they are about the idea of the abstract category each person represents to us and all that we wish to derive from those roles (Family, Spouse, Friend, etc.).
This is the type of oppressive thinking which leads us into perpetual warfare and conflict. There will always be an “enemy” somewhere not living as we think they ought (i.e. not like us) or not upholding the values we deem to be best. Here we find no room for compromise, negotiation, or a retreat within our own borders, for borders are no longer respected. The only victory recognized by the borderless is one of complete subjugation where all differences deemed unacceptable or threatening within a person or a country are wiped clean.
Whether it is relational warfare or the actual use of military might, wars and conquests based on these attempts to subdue in the name of eternals are the epitome of death and destruction. They leave us unhinged, disconnected from purpose, detached from unique loves, and free to attack at will. The justification for our ruler’s choices, or for the way we treat others, gets confused with the will and role of God.
It is not our place to tell another autonomous individual how they must feel, think, believe, or act (although we may certainly enforce a consequence when those actions break laws or disrespect established boundaries). We cannot force a certain type of lifestyle, set of preferences, or acts of personhood on another at will, even when it is perceived to be for their own benefit.
Likewise, the power afforded to a state, or a union of states, is not meant to force others to be made in their own image. Such is not the purpose of any government or form of governance. Unless, of course, it be the divine governance of God, and even He allows room for choice in pursuit of his purposes and the reflection of his image. Choice to exist apart from Him is a critical component of the highest love, the love He offers to His creation.
Natural love, as Lewis defines love of country, is separate from our higher callings to affection, eros, and the most beautiful of all, charity. Although Need-love is not the same sentiment as that which we encounter in most of our personal relationships or in our relationship with God, commitments to things like our home and our country act as models to help train or prepare us for accepting and growing into the higher spiritual loves of this life.
We shouldn’t worship or idolize our countries, but we can love them. As part of that properly ordered love we need to define what they are and what they are not. We need borders in order to know and love ourselves.
While we continually grow into our true selves, we can change how we use and manage our borders. Self-awareness and appreciation creates a foundation for relationship and a respect for those whose countries or attributes differ from our own. We need to define ourselves in order to love others.
In loving others we must protect ourselves from any deceitful notion that we are secretly better than those who live, think, or act differently than us. Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love.
When we discover that we are in a relationship that has confused the boundary of what is mine and what is yours then it is time to reassert who we are. Sometimes we must say no, and sometimes we must say goodbye. Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary.
If we try to live without boundaries we lose guidance on how to respect and interact with others. Lacking self-definition, we risk turning into the very tyrants we fear from abuses of patriotic and self-love. Without borders we loose our identity and thereby our purpose.
There are so many ways we can choose to manage our edges and our internals, for good or ill. But in order to give, in order to relate, in order to love, we must be able to define, own, and protect. These are the borders we need.
For further reading on the importance of borders as a foundation for love, I suggest Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.