Whether we call them limits, or guidelines, or discipline, boundaries are an essential element of a happy and healthy life, put in place for our protection and well-being. Boundaries assist us in knowing the confines within which we can function with success and are at the heart of a productive society. They teach us ‘You can go this far and no further’. Without boundaries and the safety they provide, our experience can be like floating in an abyss with no idea when to expect an endpoint or how it will come about. Our behaviour at these times will either be restricted and uncertain or harmful to ourselves &/or others.
On the contrary, when we know where the edges are; that we have something or someone to bounce up against, we can be more creative and have greater freedom to explore and excel. Many of us do our best work when faced with the proverbial deadline, know that someone has our back or where there are clearly communicated and agreed-on expectations. No doubt, there will always be people who will push the boundaries, for good or ill. Sometimes they forge new frontiers for which we are eternally grateful; at others, they suffer the folly of their actions.
Many of the difficulties we face in our relationship and family lives are a result of a lack of boundaries; a lack of ability or willingness to firstly define the limits, to acknowledge the consequences of our choices and behaviour on ourselves and others, and to know when enough is enough! Whenever we are in a position of authority, it is critical that we put boundaries in place. The word “No!” is a powerful boundary in itself and one we need to become proficient in applying to ourselves and others.
Perhaps in our efforts to create a more just society, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and our children and families have paid the highest price.
The families and communities that were the foundation of society have been eroded in part because we are exhausted, and because the boundaries that once empowered parents and society to raise our young people, have themselves been overridden.
While there are no easy answers to the challenges confronting us, one of the most powerful things we can do is to put guidelines in place, to start working together to create a world that is safer for our children and for one another. Unless our young people are guided to become productive members of society through appropriate modelling by the adults in their lives, and a social structure that supports their healthy development, we will have much more perplexing problems to solve than those now at hand.
Inner Sense No. 30 | July 2012 – updated June 2019