In a World of Walls, We Need to Build More Bridges

Today, more than ever, we live in a world of walls. 

In the United States, President Joe Biden just agreed to extend the border wall first ordered by President Donald Trump. In the Middle East, the world’s attention has been drawn once more, amidst shocking violence, to the “iron wall” separating Israel and Gaza. 

And these are just some of the many walls we’ve built to divide ourselves — from the barricades running thousands of miles along the India-Bangladesh border, to the border fences erected in European countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia. 

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the history and politics behind the construction of all those walls. But now more than ever, it feels like an important time for us all, as individuals, to be working to ensure our own worldview isn’t defined by barriers and obstacles that no longer serve us well. 

Understanding your worldview

Just like a physical wall, the way in which we see the world isn’t a fact of nature — instead, it’s something that’s constructed over time, brick by brick. This “constructed self” is made up of all our learnings — from our parents, our teachers, our studies, our society, and our culture. It’s also made up of our accumulated trauma, and the many different biases and bad ideas we pick up along the way. As such, the constructed self diverges over time from our core authentic self — and if we aren’t aware of that fact, and actively working to narrow the gap, we can lose sight of our authentic human self altogether. 

When we’re first born, we’re like sponges: we reach trustingly out to the world and to others, constantly learning and seeking new experiences. But over time, we realize that old learnings don’t always lead to the results we’d hoped for. That leads us to build figurative walls of our own. If we feel hurt or afraid, or if people wrong us, we recoil and contract inward, becoming less likely to engage openly with those situations or people in the future.

That isn’t always a bad thing — it’s a defense mechanism that can help to keep us safe. If someone mistreats or betrays you, it makes sense to treat them with suspicion in the future! The key lies in knowing where and when to use these mechanisms, and how to do so in ways that avoid doing harm, and that help us achieve our objectives and operate effectively in the world. 

But not all of the walls we build over time serve us well. Often, we over-generalize. On the strength of one bad experience, we build walls that close us off to other experiences, and other knowledge, that might actually have helped us. To avoid slipping into prejudice and closed-mindedness, then, we need to keep revisiting and challenging our worldview, and actively working to weed out the learnings that feed our thinking and seeing in ways that no longer serve us effectively.

Look inward and outward

Our goal should be to be Knowledge Mindful about the diversity and quality of information we draw into our lives from the world outside. We also need to be mindful about our self-understanding, and the way the strategies we build to deal with the world serve to filter and process what we absorb, internalize, and manifest in our own decisions and actions.

We’ll always need filters to help us move quickly and efficiently through a crowded and chaotic world. But we need to make sure we’re using healthy and effective filters, and not inadvertently building walls that block out too much, or stop us from finding the nourishment we need to keep growing.

To achieve that, we need to sharpen and clarify our understanding both of ourselves and of the world around us. Instead of reflexively building walls to shut people out, we need to be open to building bridges — reaching out for different and more diversified knowledge, and making it our own.

That means, in part, learning to see ourselves — and others — as part of a bigger ecosystem. We’re all connected, and we’ll often edit or select the knowledge and ideas that are best-suited to our needs. That process needs to happen as part of a broader outward-looking process of active and mindful interconnectedness. 

Start building bridges

The more we recognize and strengthen our connections with others, and seek out similarities rather than differences, the more able we become to ground our entire worldview not just in our constructed selves, but in something deeper and much larger than ourselves. We can operate from a place of our deepest and most authentic selves — the humanity and core values we share with others.

That’s powerful because when we identify and strengthen those connections, it becomes possible to understand the degree to which our own interests align with those of the people around us. Instead of focusing on tangible things and zero-sum propositions, we can find ways to unlock intangible benefits, and make things better not just for ourselves but for the whole ecosystem. 

I don’t claim that this approach can solve all the world’s problems. But it’s worth a try. One of knowledge mindfulness’s main principles is that we each need to take responsibility for evolving our own knowledge. If we own that responsibility and commit to it, then perhaps one day we’ll find our way to the collective wisdom we need to turn things around.

In that sense, knowledge mindfulness is especially important in these troubled times. In a world that’s marked by separation and divisions — and thus, inevitably, by violence and anger — we need to find a path to peace and fulfillment. 

There are no easy answers. But by embracing knowledge mindfulness, we can start to connect more fully to ourselves, our humanity, and to others and the world as a whole. In this way, we can start building the bridges we need in order to achieve mutual success and enduring happiness.