166. Vapors and Boundaries

Boundaries are the topic of the week, so it seems. What are they? What is their function? How do you apply and enforce them? How is it that I have such trouble identifying and applying them? Well, let’s take a closer look, my blog friends.

“You see that door over there?”

“Sure, it’s closed.”

“Yup. It’s a boundary for our privacy. See the lock on it?”

“Sure, more privacy.”

“Yes, and safety.”

“Well, I get those boundaries. It’s the thing with a person intruding into my space that I can’t seem to protect or somehow rescue myself.”

“Okay, we’re getting there. Your clothes are a boundary for privacy and modesty. The space between us is a major boundary that protects your intimacy and personal space. The volume we speak at and the vocabulary we choose are both boundaries of respect and decency.”

“Okay, I get that. But when someone comes at me with loud vulgarity or obscenity, big eyes and wild gestures, I collapse in a cold panicked sweat.”

“So you’re telling me that you don’t protect your boundaries.”

“Man, it’s not my problem; it’s these folks who keep coming at me, getting in my business, harassing me.”

“… inviting themselves to dinner and parties?”

“Yeah, that kind of crap. They don’t seem to get social cues. They interrupt and don’t go home when everyone else leaves. They come to lunch and forget their wallets.”

“And what do you do? Because boundaries need to enforced after they are identified and articulated.”

“Well, I, uh, get quiet and give the offender a look of contempt, you know, the stinkeye. Most folks get that sort of thing. And then I exhale really loudly.”

“So, essentially, you do nothing to enforce the boundary.”

“No, I just told you what I do.”

“And how is that working for you?”

“I’m here, right? Not so well. Tell me what to do, Doc.”

“The first thing is to stop doing what you already know does not work.”

“So it’s my fault?”

“Partly, in that you allow it to continue and surrender power and authority to the offender.”

“I just don’t like confrontation.”

“Clearly. Let me give you a personal example. My neighbor had a nice golden retriever and then a German shepherd. I had a mischievous border collie. These dogs played with each other as puppies and later on. We had no fence, just a line of forsythia bushes and bridal wreath separated our two yards. My kids jumped on their trampoline and their kids swung on our swings. We knew where the yards ended, but there was no need to fence it. The boundary was invisible, see? We only marked where to stop mowing grass.

“One day the neighbor’s whacked-out adult son brought home a mystery pit bull. The old happy dog days were gone. Our kids were grown. My wife got anxious about the pit bull. It had a habit of charging our new dog, passive Johnny, and our daughter. My wife tried to convey her fears of attack to the neighbor, who dismissed it quickly as if my wife were ill or mistaken. But the pit bull continued his aggressive charges at us and our dog. Finally the neighbors put up a very wimpy, wiggly wire fence that was 42” high, the sort of fence you’d put around a garden to keep domesticated rabbits out. The pit bull easily climbed it. This happened during the day and night, since the dog was often left out in their yard without any supervision.

“Our neighbors were getting exasperated with many things in their life at this time. However, after a particularly scary charge by the dog at my daughter one night, I called to tell them, “Fix the problem or I’m calling the awful dog warden lady”. I went over to confront whoever was home. No one answered the door. I called the mean dog warden. We weren’t playing nicely any longer. One of our neighbors had taken us to court for our dog’s leash law violations the year before, and I hated to do the same to these folks, who are decent people. But a bigger boundary was needed for our safety.

“I suppose a great deal of drama erupted. We got a couple of pathetic phone messages and a couple of sad face-to-face chats. Eventually a real fence was erected. It is 6 feet tall, solid wood. The pit bull is contained. Problem solved for a few thousand dollars. I helped them stain it six months later. Peace resulted…until their bird died while my wife was pet sitting for them over their vacation. Dang! Let’s save that for the grief and anger management lesson.”

“So I’m supposed to build appropriate fences for the insults in my life?”

“Yeah. Or else the insults run through your yard like loose pit bulls.”

“Okay, I get that… it’s just hard.”

“Last example: Mexican border, right? Let’s say the Border Patrol folks decide to save money and just spray paint a line between California and Mexico. No ditch or fence or wall or guards or dogs or helicopters. Just a nice silver line. And they tell the Americans, “Now stay on your side.” And they tell the Mexicans, “And you guys, stay on your side.” How long is that going to work?”

“Not one minute. There is no muscle, no teeth in the guard dog.”

“So the boundary’s dimensions and materials are dictated by the need. How high, how long, how deep, how wide, how sharp… depends on the violation at hand.”

“I think I’m getting it, Doc Honey.”

“Don’t call me honey.”

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