The construction of walls seems to be mostly a human phenomenon. Ants, bees, beavers and muskrats build structures for communal living that have some equivalents. Our understanding of early human life comes from drawings on cave walls. The Double Ditch Indian Village made use of palisades to complement the ditches they had dug for protection from enemies. Not only did the palisades and the ditches provide protection, but also the bluffs that fall steeply to the Missouri River some 200 feet below.
Human history is replete with the construction of walls. The city of Jerusalem is famous for its walls, and gates. Solomon built the first temple in 957 B.C.E. Hebrew scriptures record the family names of those who rebuilt the walls and gates of this conflicted city. During the Roman Empire, walls and construction became a sign of economic and political strength. Herod the Great built the last temple in Jerusalem in 20 B.C.E. It was a massive structure some 1,500 feet long and 900 feet wide. It had 13 gates, nine of which had names.
The first and second temples in Jerusalem have been rebuilt, under siege or destroyed, 13 times. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple for the last time in 70 C.E. The rebuilding of the temple is still included in the modern prayers of the Jewish people.
During his campaign for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump promised to build a beautiful wall on the U.S.- Mexican border. The audience at his campaign rallies would often respond to his promise with shouts of “build that wall, build that wall.” Whether or not Trump was tapping a subliminal ancient desire for protection and restoration to greatness, only competent psychologists could answer. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff contends that Trump was appealing to the strict father thinking frames inherent in people who believe in strong authority figures. Perhaps today, like the Hebrews of old, people want a king to make things right.
The ancient and current purpose of walls was protection for people inside them. However, walls separate and imprison people. Homes with quarantine signs imprisoned people with smallpox. Prison walls separate people from society. The Berlin Wall was designed to keep people in East Berlin from political freedom in West Berlin.
Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty says “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” That poem speaks to people with the thinking frame Lakoff describes as the nurturing parent and it mentions a golden door.
President Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, combined nurturing parent and strict father thinking frames in his farewell address when he described what he meant by a shining city on a hill. He, too, mentions doors. “But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace — a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Walls without doors are prisons for the people on either side. Let us join Lazarus and Reagan and focus on the doors. That is what the immigration debate is about.