Our world is filled with boundaries. They seem to be something we humans are particularly fond of. We have divided the globe into geographical and political regions, defined their perimeters, named them, claimed ownership of them, and defended them to our deaths. We put up fences around our yards to define our space, limit our children and pets, protect our belongings, and keep strangers out. We obviously put a lot of effort into clearly delineating that which is yours and that which is mine.
We set, maintain, and respect our boundaries for very good reasons. Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” You may not know the poem, but the concept is well-known and easy to understand. Our boundaries allow us to practice our own personal idea of freedom as long as it doesn’t harm or infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. Knowing our boundaries keeps the peace in this crowded world and allows us to pursue our own personal happiness within them.
The boundaries which I find most intriguing are those we have learned from our social interactions. From the time we become aware of ourselves and others in our first year of life we begin to learn and establish our behavioral boundaries. Through trial and error we learn what gains us favor among our families and peers and what gets us into trouble. We learn which subjects not to discuss publicly, how far to stand from the person we’re talking with, and how loudly we can speak in various environments. We learn not to touch people we don’t know, and when we do touch people, we know what kind of touching is appropriate. The list goes on and on. While most of these boundaries can be simply described as “good manners,” at their core, they are built upon respect, for both self and others–respect for the boundaries between courtesy and offense. We “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
By their simple nature, we can naturally expect unpleasant things to happen when boundaries are crossed. By extreme example, people who crossed the Berlin Wall were shot on sight. Similarly, intruders on private property can be arrested. On the social level, we see children who sass their parents or wander out of the yard get punished, and rowdy patrons ejected from the premises. Scolding another mother’s child will likely result in your own scolding, and questioning the integrity of a friend may find you minus a friend.
Living within our physical and social boundaries allows for a generally peaceful life, but some of us choose to occasionally dwell right on the edge of boundaries. I’m speaking, of course, about those of us who escort and protest at Louisville’s abortion clinic. Life at the very edge of boundaries can be precarious. Your every word and movement is carefully watched and scrutinized by your opponent who is ready to defend their territory at the first hint of a border crossing. Any participant on the front lines of this raging cultural war over abortion will attest to the truth of this. Cross words and threats are exchanged for the tiniest of infractions of the physical, social, and philosophical boundaries we are all there to defend, and any hope of maintaining any kind of peace and order relies entirely on respect for those boundaries.
Most abortion clinics in this country are able to establish solid and obvious boundaries between their clients and those who would oppose their choice with fenced, private lots, parking garages, and the like. Some cities have stepped up and defined boundaries between clients and protesters, maintaining a physical distance between them with bubble laws or buffer zones. But at Louisville’s abortion clinic, no such thing exists. The opposing participants mingle.
The boundaries between protesters and clients, and the escorts who walk with the clients, are defined by nothing more than the “good manners” of the participants. Even the one, single, obviously defined, physical boundary–the indentation on the sidewalk which supposedly marks the boundary between clinic property and the public sidewalk–is subject to the practice of good manners as it cannot physically bar anyone from crossing it. So, in reality, our boundaries are defined by our morals, our principles, and our self-control–basically, those behavioral boundaries we’ve been learning since we were toddlers. Luckily, the majority of the participants at the clinic know these boundaries well enough, and are able to avoid the more drastic forms of violence and aggression. But, we are not good neighbors. There are gaps in our fences. There are boundaries that protesters fail to acknowledge, and breach routinely.
There are two boundaries which, for escorts, basically define our presence at the clinic. The first is personal space, that comfort zone we each establish in the physical space around our bodies and claim as our own. I briefly mentioned this previously in noting how most of us know how far to stand from the people we’re talking to. The boundary of this comfort zone fluctuates based on things like who is approaching, where the encounter is occurring, and who else is present, or one’s current state of mind, current activity, the other’s motivation, and so on. The other boundary, personal privacy, is a social boundary which fluctuates similarly to personal space. We are willing to share and discuss our personal matters with others based on the same who, what, where, when, and why criteria. Crossing either of these boundaries steals away a person’s comfort. It can make them defensive, even fearful, but always raises their stress level. Crossing this boundary by mistake is regretful, but doing it purposely is an attack on human dignity.
These are the two boundaries that clinic protesters, or as they like to call themselves, “sidewalk counselors,” cross continually as they approach complete strangers (the clinic clients), walk shoulder-to-shoulder with them, and discourse on subjects like the client’s sex life, the state of their reproductive organs, mate selection, life choices, and many other intimate subjects one simply doesn’t discuss with strangers. I always marvel at how these otherwise decent people who were raised in the same culture as the rest of us, completely lose their sense of good manners and acceptable social behavior, and present their opinions so rudely. Don’t they understand that putting people in defense mode cancels out their message?
If you read the previous blog entry entitled “Trespassing and Invasion,” you’re familiar with the story of Stephanie, the protester who recently found herself on the wrong side of the clinic property line. She crossed a boundary that is acknowledged and generally respected by protesters. She argued, she lost, she was physically coerced to the proper side of the boundary and peace was restored. Her disrespect for this boundary and her willingness to cross it are duly noted. Defending the property line boundary is important, but her infraction was minor when compared to the continual assaults she and the rest of the protesters inflict upon the women who have come to the clinic for private medical attention that is none of anyone else’s business. This is the reason we escort: to uphold women’s dignity as they seek essential medical care. This is the boundary we defend. Approach this boundary and we will watch you like a hawk. Cross it and we will do all we can to neutralize your threat, while taking care to stay within the boundaries of good manners.
Written by Dan