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Boundaries, Blame and the Healing of Everything
Joanne Sales – July 2010

Last March, my husband backed into our son’s neighbor’s car. The blame was placed 100% on my husband. Ok, so he was the sole driver and he backed into a parked car. It’s a simple case of black and white. Right? No, not really. You see, these neighbors know the auto body shop phone number by heart. That’s suspicious. Wouldn’t you begin to wonder about your “right” to park in a spot, after being hit there twice? How about 3 times? 5 times? How about 7 times?!

Yes! Their car was hit seven times – in the same place. Still, the law was on their side – for the law thinks in black and white. But we’re humans. It’s our job to think in color – or at least in shades of grey. It’s our job to jump the fence sometimes – in the interest of love.

Lots of things jump fences for better or worse. I watched a feral cat disappear into about 12 acres of thick Scotch broom that had taken over a farm smack dab in the middle of Courtenay. Who owns the problem of forest and farm land gone wrong? The farmer is long ago dead. We know who now owns the land. But who owns the problem? The problem neither starts nor stops inside the boundaries of those 12 acres.

Our society is committed to the belief in boundaries and ownership, and many of our problems stem from that belief. It hasn’t been that way everywhere and always. Apparently, the natives of North America gave away their land so freely because they thought it was a joke. No one can own land. You’ve got to be kidding! No, the settlers were not kidding. The concepts of ownership and blame are very sticky, and people spend lifetimes stuck in either or both of them, like flies on fly paper.

You’ve heard it all: “It’s someone else’s land and it’s not my fault. He did it. She started it. Talk to the owner. It’s not on my side of the fence.”

But sometimes something so huge happens that we forget about ownership and blame. Whether our worldly possessions consist of acres of land or a matchbox car collection, suddenly it pales in significance. The seriousness of the situation forces us to climb out of those two barrels of ownership and blame. There is too much at stake. We care too much. And so it is with the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.
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Steven Covey coined the phrases Circles of Concern and Circles of Influence. Some people have large Circles of Concern and small Circles of Influence. They aren’t dangerous. The greater problems are created by those who have a large Circle of Influence but a small Circle of Concern. Too many people have influence over things that they could care less about.

If there is anything good about the oil spreading through the Gulf of Mexico, it is that it has blown open our tiny Circles of Concern. Blown open our hearts.
Of course we need to investigate the case, but the suffering marine life in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t care who caused the problem. The oil on water knows no boundaries, regardless of who is to blame.

The solutions to our collective problems lie beyond the boundaries of our personal property, personal interests, and our immediate Circles of Concern. Some problems simply cannot be solved from one side of the fence. Sometimes in order to solve a problem, we have to forget who owns it.

Somebody said, “There is no limit to what we humans can accomplish, if we aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.” I’d like to give credit to the person who said that, but the point is, it doesn’t matter.

Thanks to Parksville Qualicum Aero Club, I went up in a small plane recently, scouting out Scotch broom. It’s amazing to look down at one’s home and neighborhood, and to see what a tiny piece of earth we occupy. The boundaries which confine and define us are really imaginary, as every single sparrow knows.
I’ve been amazed at the boundary-free volunteers in our community, who throw themselves whole heartedly into projects that have no impact on what they own, but huge impact on what they care about. It sheds a whole new light on the whole concept of ownership. Do we own what we own or do we own what we care about?

Some concepts keep us from solving problems. Sometimes focusing on who is at fault prevents us from finding the solution. And sometimes, for the benefit of all, we need to jump the fence.