Boundaries: Pt. 2


by Kevin Smith

Following up on Boundaries Part 1—how boundaries work to create safety—here’s a case where “the opposite of a truth is also true.” One of the first things we learn to do to create safety is separate ourselves: we build walls, erect boundaries, withdraw. For those of us who were traumatized in some way, we often dissociate, which literally involves separating from ourselves, separating our psyche from our experience. Many of us have the experience of “leaving our bodies,” and some of those reunions take 20, or 30, or 40 years—or longer.

Support groups for women who were raped might limit inclusion only to women who were raped, plus a facilitator. Similarly, therapy groups for soldiers who experienced battle trauma might be limited only to that population. The very act of forming a group to exclude “everyone except us” is one of the things we can do to create a sense of safety. Excluding “others not like us” and creating a bond among those who have had similar experiences can be an initial step towards creating a sense of safety.

I don’t need to give you a long list of the ways in which we create safety through separation in our society.  Those of you who live in houses where you punch a code into the alarm console before going to bed have one good example. We get unlisted numbers, “secret” e-mail accounts and pseudonyms. We have locks on our doors, more passwords than we can remember, and all sorts of fences for all sorts of conditions and needs. Walling ourselves off isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I’ve written many times here about how the construction of appropriate boundaries is one of the best ways we can help ourselves move forward towards wholeness.

Hearing from my readers has caused me to reflect on the fact that I’ve met and held, at this point, hundreds of total strangers, sometimes in hotel rooms, sometimes at my home, sometimes at theirs. I have felt remarkably and consistently safe, and have never been harmed in any of those experiences.  My sense of safety is not coming from keeping myself separate, because I connect to many people, physically and emotionally, on a regular, weekly basis, many of whom are total strangers. And the more I do this, the safer I feel. It’s as though an invisible force is protecting me (and I believe it is.) There is some sense in which I feel safe because I can connect to virtually anyone I choose to connect to. And I choose to connect, more often than not.

With perfect timing, a story from National Public Radio surfaced in my e-mail this morning. Rather than simply linking to it, I’m going to take the liberty of pasting it out in its entirety here, because I really want you to read it. I’ve included the link at the end, in case you want to listen, too. Read this. I think it will help you understand how we create safety for ourselves not just by separating from each other, but by connecting, even when connection is risky, or even dangerous.

PLEASE NOTE: I would never ask, suggest, or imply that any of you should be as daring as Julio Diaz (below) was in taking his assailant out to dinner. The last thing I would want is for any of you to be in danger, to take unadvisable risks, or to enter into interactions with other from a naive, simplistic or careless place.  Please be careful, and please don’t dive into anything unadvisedly.  However, do consider, thoughtfully, this little interview, and how we can create safety with each other not only by separating and creating boundaries–but also by connecting and taking the boundaries down.

The power of one’s intention—what we put out into the universe, what we intend, and what we hope to attract—is in some ways the single greatest force shaping our experience. In some ways, it’s the only thing shaping our experience. Do the right thing, and the right thing often comes back to you.

Take care. I wish you many blessings, safety, and connection.


Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,”

Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet.

Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.


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