Invisible Barriers; Why do we create them?

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I love people watching. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t?  A free and easy pastime that I expect many of us like to indulge in from time to time. As a frequent London underground user, the tube provides a convenient platform for discreetly watching people. Masquerading behind a nodding head and pair of headphones, I often grab the opportunity to take in a sneaky view of my carriage, as commuters in the hundreds scurry on and off and through the barriers. I doubt any of them have the slightest clue I’m casting my beady eye over them as they carry out their busy agenda’s. I’m sure we all have our own reasons for people watching and I’m sure we all come to our own individual conclusions about our unsuspecting subjects;  Where might they may be going?  What’s in the package they’re carrying?  Where did they snag those outstanding trainers?

For me though, being so close to complete strangers and watching people scurry around often gets me thinking about us simple humans and our bizarre ways and how I’d love for us to all be happier, more loving and closer to each other.

Something that I was thinking about while walking through Cannon St station recently was the way as a human race, we put up unnecessary barriers between ourselves.  Barriers which create needless separation from each other.  It seems that crazily, we subconsciously look for excuses not to be friends, rather than celebrate reasons to be friends.  We’re all human, we are kin.  What is it in us that causes us to isolate ourselves from strangers rather than embrace the kinship that is there for all of us?

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to try and demonstrate an example of these silly barriers using football Fans. (This isn’t a football post, don’t worry!)

Let’s take a Spurs fan and an Arsenal fan.  If you’re not a football fan, apologies, I will give you a quick summary before I proceed; Arsenal and Spurs (Tottenham Hotspur) have one of the oldest, fiercest and most famous rivalries between any 2 English football teams. This particular rivalry started when Arsenal moved from their original Plumstead ground in 1913, to Highbury in North London. This is just 4 miles from White Hart Lane where Spurs ply their trade, becoming the closest neighbouring football club and naturally creating a local rivalry.

Now, if we take the die-hard Arsenal fan and the die-hard Spurs fan on match day and put them together, you will most likely find that the 2 fans will not be friendly towards each other. They both support their football clubs with a passion and this passion automatically means that they will probably have an aversion to each other.  Immediate Barrier! Having a number of friends who are either Arsenal or Spurs fans I can vouch for the rivalry that can exist and this can lead to resistance, antagonism and hostility. The struggle is real. Both fans will probably agree that their mutual interest in football is not enough to connect them, rather their passion for their different football clubs creates a barrier actually preventing them from connecting with each other. That barrier, to an outsider, perhaps someone who doesn’t follow football must seem ludicrous but to the football fans, it can be proper and real.

Let’s now take those 2 football fans and stick them next to each other on a tube carriage full of people dressed for the national clown convention* (if such a thing exists!) There may now be a new invisible barrier, between the clowns as a collective and the 2 football fans. The football fans will probably feel like outsiders and perhaps feel a little insecure and unsure of their situation as they don’t have anything in common with everyone else around them. (Their thoughts might be: Who are these clowns? They are different from me, I’m not amongst my own etc.) Perhaps even slight paranoia manifests and a feeling that everyone else is in on the joke might start to creep in. However, it is highly likely that the football fans would now gravitate towards each other, recognising in each other a mutual interest and finding common ground that they choose to use to connect with each other. Football banter and jokes ahoy, good times. But wait – this is the same common ground that on match day caused them to loathe each other. Why does this happen?

On the Clown filled carriage, their passion and interest in Football has caused these 2 people to connect with their fellow human being which is a beautiful thing. However, in different circumstances that EXACT same interest would cause them to be sworn enemies. How is this a thing! What has changed between them? In fact, nothing about their passion has changed at all. If we look at it, all that’s changed is an external circumstance which isn’t something we can necessarily control and this change has unknowingly caused them to adjust their own personal approach. Football aside, this demonstrates that as a human race we regularly and unintentionally allow external (and invisible) forces to negatively modify the way we think and behave in our day to day lives. This can then create these invisible barriers between us, which to me is a very sad thing indeed. The type of thing that I think if any of us stood back and really thought about it, we’d probably not like the fact that we allow it to happen to us.

What would it take for us to not fall into the trap of doing this? Is Tolerance the key? I don’t think it’s the complete answer in this scenario. Tolerating someone here, to me, would indicate that a person is not wholeheartedly accepting the other person, but rather they’re allowing them, through vaguely gritted teeth to express themselves, but not really accepting the view of that person. It is maybe just as simple as being aware and mindful of the fact and being committed to being be a bit kinder to everyone, regardless of their beliefs and views? Perhaps.  I think we have to remember, that fundamentally, despite our trillions of different views, attitudes, likes and dislikes, we do all have something in common. We’re all Human beings. The only ones in the entire galaxy! Perhaps we should actually stick together.  Makes sense to me.  What do you think?

Using another simple example, and one which removes the animosity element; You may pass the same person every day for 5 years in a row whilst shuffling around the office and never exchange pleasantries, never say Hi, or even raise a little smile in each other’s direction, which in itself upon reflection does seem quite odd. But if you were both on the other side of the planet on holiday and bumped into each other on the beach, I’m pretty confident a conversation would be struck up. Why does it take 10,000 miles to bring down a barrier and initiate a friendly exchange? Again, upon reflection this seems absurd.

Of course, if we expand on this theme,  we’re actually talking about a bigger picture and the more significant issues of Genocide, World Wars and religiously driven conflict and all those terrible things that make our beautiful and extraordinary planet a worse place to be. Barriers on a global scale. Personally I find scaling it back through digestible examples, (Such as the footy fans) helps me to understand and process these fundamental elements of our Humanity. In my personal quest to always try and be a better person, it helps me to identify behavioural traits that cause us to perpetrate such small and silly actions every day that lead to the invisible barriers going up between our fellow human beings. Who do I put barriers up with and why?  I don’t want to put any barriers up, how can I stop myself from doing so?

I’ve been accused of being too idealistic in the past (Thank you. I take that as a massive compliment) and craving a world where everyone is just plain old nice and kind to each other and where love is the governing emotion, when apparently that is just not a realistic expectation. Well Mr Pessimistic I say to you this; it’s a fact that it only takes one person to make a difference so I’ll never stop believing that showing kindness and being good, even in the face of challenging situations is key to progression. By believing in this approach and trying every day to ground it in to my life, I am in fact creating that unrealistic world, even if it is only me that is experiencing it. Can you see now how one person can make that difference? Lol – If you’re a believer in synchronicities, then I’ll let you know that as I’m typing this sentence, ‘Human Nature’ by Michael Jackson has just played itself randomly on my Spotify. This makes me smile a lot. I guess we are all only Human.  For now.

In Summary

In summary, these invisible barriers are literally non-existent and yet at the same time they are very real, but only in our heads. I believe it is up to each of us to try and make sure we stay mindful of this fact and smash through the barricades knowing that we have common ground with everyone on the planet and I hope that we can all choose to find reasons to be friends, rather than use the same reasons as excuses to be enemies. Something I know I will try my best to focus on in my own life, including whilst I’m watching and experiencing unsuspecting strangers on the underground.

If we’re truly committed to being kind and loving to our fellow human beings, it should easily overrule silly non sensical differences like the fact that we support different football clubs. (and this is coming from a Millwall fan!)  Love over rules all!

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Marvin Gaye. 1971.

*Wishing peace and love to all clowns. This post is not meant to put up an invisible barrier between you and I!

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May 20, 2018 9:27 pm

This post is spot on, speaks volumes to me. As an artist involved in the music scene I have seen this first hand. Two people who would not normally interact with each other at a venue in their home country are booked together at a venue in another part of the world and welcome each others company. I feel this happens due to their common interests and being in a foreign country that may not speak their language. The barriers are removed and a connection made. I ask myself the question on why this doesn’t happen everyday! Could it be… Read more »

May 24, 2018 6:47 am

A very interesting and thought provoking post. My immediate thought on this, but knowing myself, that could change on greater reflection, is that what puts up the barriers are what also removes them. As a race, homo sapiens, had to develop certain communication skills and behaviours to allow us to evolve from hunter gatherer families, to bands to large communities. To protect the interests of the group, language had to develop to explain how the collective thrived, where food was plentiful, where water could be sourced and what mushrooms to avoid. There is but a small step from that to… Read more »