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Local Drummer: Good fences make good neighbours


If your life is filled with more of what you don’t want and not enough of what you do want, it’s time to set your boundaries — Jackie Black (www.EzineArticles.com).

As soon as I read this I thought about our politics in Zimbabwe and why the people of this country continue to have more of what they don’t want and less of what they do want.

Perhaps the relationship experts could teach us a thing or two.

According to my research, setting boundaries involves expressing yourself honestly and not being held back by the fear of offending others or hurting their feelings. In our politics this seems to be a persistent problem.

What is the real reason that people in Zimbabwe do not say what they really think or feel? It is surely not because we fear offending others, water and electricity shortages are more offensive than disagreeable opinions, and yet we swallow those daily.

Poor education and healthcare delivery is just as offensive, but we have come to accept it.
Is it because we are afraid of repercussions then?

Now this is an interesting phenomenon.

In the aftermath of Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s death and all the unanswered questions surrounding it, it will be very convenient for us to claim fear as the reason for not speaking up or speaking out.

Last Friday I attended a day- long committee meeting in which someone told a story about sending a guy on a long distance trip with 10 litres of fuel in his car.

This would be done under the guise of saving money. When the driver’s fuel runs out half way to the destination, a second car is dispatched carrying additional fuel in a jerry can to enable the first guy to get to his destination.

In total, the amount of fuel, time and manpower wasted comes to a lot more than it would have cost just to give the original driver an adequate amount of fuel in the first place.

This is akin to what we do with our politics. We say that people’s lives are precious and so we don’t want to be outspoken or to publicly criticise the establishment because lives must be lost.

But, while we are busy constructing our conspiracies of silence and tip-toeing around matters, lives are being wasted.

Kids are turning into criminals because they have no future and no opportunities; babies are dying in incubators in hospitals with poor power supplies; malnutrition is rife, water and sanitation issues are leading to disease and death.

Why is this type of dying more acceptable than any other?

But let me go back to the issue of boundaries. According the relationship expert, Dr Jackie Black:

“Setting and keeping your boundaries and honouring the boundaries of others are among the most challenging and confusing behaviours in relationships.”

With reference to our political parties, I think this is self explanatory. We have a document called the Global Political Agreement which is supposed to spell out a number of boundaries to help our major political parties relate better and make progress.

But clearly honouring these boundaries is turning out to be more “challenging and confusing” than anyone could ever have anticipated!

As a student of English literature in high school, I was in a class that was required to study a variety of poems.

One which I have never forgotten is a piece by Robert Frost called Mending Wall.

On the face of it, the poem seems to be about two neighbours who set out to mend the boundary wall that demarcates their two properties, each working from his own side of the fence.

The narrator considers the exercise futile, because neither neighbour has animals that are likely to breach the wall, but his neighbour insists, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

I’ve often found it useful to quote this line when faced with a potentially awkward situation, say an associate is breaching a professional relationship, or a simple friendship is threatening to get unwieldy.

It’s a useful tool for reminding the other party that there are boundaries which, if we observe, can secure the status quo in a positive way.
Because good fences really do make good neighbours.

But why do they make good neighbours? Psychologists tell us that the crucial role of boundaries is to:

Help other people know how to treat you;

Define your sense of self;

Delineate how much you have to give of time, money or energy;

Provide dividing lines between you and everyone else that represents both physical and emotional limits others may not violate;

Separate your needs, wants, desires, thoughts and feelings from those of other others
When properly implemented, boundaries make others feel safe around you as well as allowing you to feel safe in your environment. They are a way to exhibit self-respect, thereby increasing the respect shown to you by others.

Wouldn’t it be great if, like the two neighbours in Robert Frost’s poem, all the major players in our politics regularly took an early morning walk to reset the boundaries between them, to mend the walls and thus ensure that the fences remain good so that the neighbourhood known as Zimbabwe remains safe for us all!

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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