My boundaries are marked by tack holes and curling edges, by yellowed paper and ripped corners. Maybe they haven’t always been this way. Maybe there was a time when my boundaries were crisp and straight, where they used to be white and clean. Life rarely allows boundaries to remain static. Instead, they fluctuate with our knowledge, our interests, our passions. Boundaries, whether physical, emotional, social, or mental, can be tricky. They must be pushed at some points, held strong at others. Navigating the balance can be confusing. Does breaking boundaries help or hurt us in the long run?
In a term sociologist Helen Fein calls the “universe of obligation,” human nature leads us to separate people into “us” and “them.” We are obligated to help those in our circle (“us”), while those in the other circle (“them”) can be left behind. The problem lies when we create walls and allow no movement through what should be a semi-permeable membrane.
This concept is illustrated throughout history with various racial, ethnic, and religious segregation. Creating a literal “us” and “them” can produce terrible results. The “us” and “them” mentality not only has the potential to sever bonds, but to prevent them from forming in the first place. Being overly tied to social boundaries such as class or race limits you to a single viewpoint of the world, a world of bias and prejudice. An extreme example of this is the Ku Klux Klan.
However, the less extreme effects of social boundaries are seen in schools around the country. While stereotypical, cliques are a part of the schooling experience, and can do varying degrees of damage. While it may seem that cliques add a sense of organization, the high school caste system fosters competition. One group thinks this way, another thinks that way. When one is deemed to have better social status, the walls grow taller and stronger.
There is an argument to be made that “first impressions” are a boundary: you never really know a person until you talk to them. While you may jump to conclusions at first glance, going out of your way to make a connection can produce amazing results.
On drop-off day at summer camp, my brain switched from comfortable to overwhelmingly shy. As my mom and I lugged duffel bags and pillows up to my cabin, I reprimanded myself for acting painfully awkward in moments like this. Then I looked up and saw her. I recognized her immediately. This girl had a glow about her. She was one of the “cool kids.” She was lounging on the porch of my cabin, smiling at me. Little did I know that we would grow to be so close that summer, that I would begin to consider her a sister of sorts. In that initial moment, I felt nothing but panic. Later, I felt nothing but love.
As important as it to break boundaries, to discover the world you inhabit, some boundaries should be preserved. As much as I love travel and learning to be a world citizen, the power of my hometown — a small and safe 8,000-person village on the Atlantic — is undisputed in my heart. I understand it with my entire being. Part of me will always feel at home here, no matter where else I go.
Sometimes, being part of an exclusive and walled-in group actually strengthens that group. It’s the feeling of inclusivity, of family, of trust and loyalty. It is the feeling that you get when a sea of people jump up and down on the bleachers in the crackling autumn air, calling for a win at a soccer game. It is the feeling when your grade, dressed in your class color, pours into the gym for a spirit week rally, and you are just a face in the crowd. It is the feeling of falling twilight, walking home after a piano lesson, when you know every car passing you on Main Street.
While boundaries should be pushed, we should remember the reason that they were there in the first place. Boundaries are meant to preserve and protect. Somewhere inside us we have the innate ability to recognize a situation and immediately know how we feel. Some call it “fight or flight,” others say it’s “going with your gut.” In those situations, no self-reflection is needed. Our instinct speaks louder than anything else.
We all have boundaries that outline our morals and goals, our passions and comfort. However, this makes it all the more important to break them by exploring — so as to learn more about ourselves and find out how far those regions reach. Is there a limit? If so, what is it?
We live in a world where we are told to “open our eyes” and “expand our horizons,” but we are trained to look at screens all day. Though we claim the world is at our fingertips, we never actually touch the ground and feel the earth below us. There is a whole world outside of our boundaries. Take a class. Find a new hobby. Make a new friend. Look up.
I believe in pushing boundaries to make yourself uncomfortable, to experience new things, and discover hidden passions. When I sat down to the piano the first time, I didn’t know that I would try to become a songwriter; I only knew about the music locked inside of me.
However, I also believe in preserving boundaries of tradition and hometowns and morals. The decision of whether to push or preserve, to open or close the door, is highly personal. It takes dedication, self-awareness, and reflection. And even then, mistakes get made. I would rather make a mistake than wonder “what if” until the day I die.
Through experience, social exploration, travel, and reflection, I can learn more about myself and the boundaries that surround me. Most of all, I believe there will be a the day that I find that my boundaries are the shape of the person that I have become.
Gracie Griffin is a 15-year-old sophomore at Yarmouth High School in Maine. She enjoys running, singing, playing field hockey, and loves to write poetry, short stories, and music.
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