Being Porous In A World Of Walls

Black and white image of a wall

A while ago, someone said to me emphatically that it was Time for Outrage. Walls were being erected at unprecedented speeds and distances across the world. With 63 border walls built in the past half century alone, we are living in a walled world, erected by the powerful to keep in, and keep out.

I had been living behind one of my own. I couldn’t remember the last time I was outraged at something beyond myself. What is the point, I told myself, when the pain is so far away? Where to begin, when the state of the world seems to be entangled in a never-ending plot of political intrigue? When so many shadow hands meant that any version of the truth I read about or sought to understand would never be complete? I was looking for a root problem to tackle, an effigy to burn, and ended up nowhere.

Connection is a paradox. It is a carriage for feeling, and feeling can feel meaningless when you don’t know what to do in the face of others’ pain. Somehow, we need so desperately to connect with each other, but numbing ourselves to distressing realities day after day offers the path of least resistance. It takes effort to sit with the effects of violence when you feel the sting in the skin of your heart. For the fortunate amongst us, our environment lures us away into available comforts.

I first realised I had been living an insular life about a decade ago. Impassioned at the seemingly endless injustice taking place all over the world, I wanted to make a difference, but ended up sliding into the grind of a nine to five soon after, well oiled with the everyday perplexities of work and personal life.

A few years ago, I was made aware of injustice happening back at home - the systems of privilege in Singapore that reward a specific race, language, neurological configuration, physical condition, and a whole spectrum of majority experiences that I never questioned previously. Those walls kept opening up through those around me who were marginalised, who insisted on questions, who refused to flinch from anger when they confronted me about my privilege as a neurotypical, middle-class, Chinese, university graduate in a white collar job. Those who made me realise I couldn’t find the answer to why I had so much, and they so little. Why dignity came with conditions.

As I grow older, I realise that legitimacy and merit are often given to those with privilege. The marginalised have to earn theirs. I still bristle with discomfort, but I’ve learnt to accept the process of unlearning as a way to rebuild a fairer version of my place in the world. With privilege also comes power. To knock down walls.

Vulnerability dissolves the callousness of indifference. We were born with the instinct to connect. We may not know the answers, but vulnerability can lead the way. Let us refuse to be desensitised.

Let us insist on connection.

wei lin

(From June 26, 2021)

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