We are becoming obsessed with a wall. We keep out or hold in with a wall. We define space with a wall. With a wall we we become “I” and “you”, and “we” and “they”. Thus, walls become identity.
I grew up with a wall as part of our world. It was the wall that became the backdrop for President Kennedy when he proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner!” I watched on television as people separated by this wall tore it down. The countries that the wall separated were united into one country. However, the identity of the people separated by the wall had been united before the fall.
As I watched this deconstruction I was struck by the graffiti painted on the wall. There were words and pictures and slogans completely covering the concrete on the western side. These expressions could only be seen from one side, and the other remained ignorant of the contents of the graffiti. One side had thoughts, emotions and feelings while the other was staring at the sterility of separation.
The leaders of the east saw safety in that sterile blank wall. It prevented thoughts, emotions and feelings from entering their space. It prevented uncomfortable and dangerous honesty with themselves. Their self-identity was fixed and the wall prevented any challenge to that identity. When the wall fell, the identity that they tried to protect was swept away. Their identity was a fraud that required the wall to masquerade as truth.
We build walls in our own world to protect our identity. These walls have no physical form as they are built with ego and suppression of our thoughts, emotions and feelings. We use them to protect ourselves from others. Behind them our awareness is allowed to create a self-identity which may not be honest, but it is protected from challenge. On the self side of the wall there is the blank sterility of the ego.
The other side of our walls is covered in graffiti. This is painted there by the rest of humanity. It is full of thoughts, emotions and feelings about us and for us. Some of it is positive, but much of the graffiti is negative. However, we never know about this graffiti because we are on the side of the wall that cannot see it. We are ignorant and safe behind our walls. Yet the rest of humanity can see the graffiti and what they determine is your identity is painted upon your own walls.
Some of us, however, find these walls to be intolerable. We crave to know what is on the other side of each wall. We are unfulfilled by simply painting graffiti on the outside of the wall. We want a connection with the self on the inside of the wall. We seek truth instead of fraud and see through the masquerade of the ego. We are the people that break down the walls.
To break down the walls requires a certain form of courage. To reach the wall of another we must abandon our own walls. To reach another we must become vulnerable ourselves. We must allow our own frauds to be unmasked and the truth to sweep away any identities that we created in safety. Our ego must face destruction in the face of honest introspection. There is danger to our self-awareness, and it is this fear that is the foundation of our walls.
In finding the foundation of fear we can find the bedrock upon which all walls are built. That bedrock is pain. Pain has an infinite number of forms and causes, but is the unifying basis for all walls. Walls prevent us from knowing another’s pain and keeps out our own pain. We can live in sterile safety behind our walls in ignorance of our own pain, even if others can read it in the graffiti on the other side.
When we abandon our walls we are faced with the pain that we own and have created. Moreover, there is no wall for the graffiti of others. Thus, the thoughts, emotions and feelings of others are placed directly on us. We can see the graffiti painted upon ourselves and therefore are forced to reconcile the identity created by ourselves with the identity created by others for ourselves. We discover the pain of others written upon us, and must incorporate that pain into our own identity.
It is at this point that we understand empathy. In empathy there are no walls, but there is pain. There is pain that we cause to ourselves and pain shared by others. In empathy the thoughts, emotions and feelings of others that cannot be blocked, but must be accepted honestly in the manner intended. In empathy self-identity is no longer the property of the self. Instead, it is the property of the whole of humanity.
Our walls exist because empathy is a choice. We can choose to be empathetic consciously or subconsciously, but we still choose. It is unwise to say that choosing empathy is better than choosing walls, because the safety of walls is perhaps a more effective method of survival. Survival is the greatest desire of our consciousness, and walls offer the safety we desire. Empathy does not offer safety. It offers understanding, and through understanding it offers acceptance.
However, there is still more beyond empathy to understand.