Walls that sway: keeping our boundaries flexible

In biology class at school I learned that living organisms such as plants and bacteria have a flexible wall in order to survive. Whether a single cell or our own skin surface, our walls must adapt to outside pressure. It’s the only way to keep the barrier from breaking, ensuring the safety and viability of the core, i.e. whatever is inside those boundaries. Flexibility in our walls is the key to survival.

So too it is with high-rise buildings. As an engineer once told me – during a hurricane while I was on the 47th floor feeling the whole building sway – a high-rise building can only endure strong winds and not break if it is built to move with the wind. The movement ensures survival.

We’re no different of course. Mankind, societies, cultures, institutions, businesses and individuals must build walls that sway. Our boundaries must be flexible enough to adapt.

Not in a “wherever the wind blows I will follow” way. That would suggest a lack of self definition, a lack of boundaries or foundation.

The more you know what you have, your unique features, the more you can differentiate between your inner core and your walls, and between your walls and your external environment.

Consequently, this empowered point of view affords you the courage to adapt. From this standpoint you are in control not of your environment, as we never have control of this, but of your walls, your responses, what you let in and what you give out.

When walls are too rigid they break, unable to hold back external influences. When they are too fluid they cannot hold in the precious uniqueness of what’s inside. The middle way is always the strongest and the truest.

On Tisha B’Av a few close friends were discussing the different communities within the Jewish people. How can they survive? What’s the balance between keeping ourselves kadosh, holy, separate, and at the same time able to live within the greater influences of society?

The answer? Flexible boundaries. We must know who we are and be fiercely protective of our unique core, letting it lead us, but at the same time, these protective walls must sway. Only then can the outside not change our inside.

Just as our skin doesn’t let water in and our ribs are hard barriers to protect our lungs, the skin also moves and the ribcage expands to allow us to breath.

As individuals and societies we must know what we’re protecting and how to build barriers that adapt, allowing us to breath, and survive.


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