Walls – Great and Otherwise

I was ready to be disappointed by the Great Wall of China.

Like so many must-see destinations, there was so much hype. Build up. Anticipation. I was going to visit it, obviously, but I was trying to temper my expectations.

Hao took me to Mutianyu and by some alignment of the stars (and a 4pm arrival time), we had the wall all to ourselves. A setting sun, winding walls, towers like punctuation marks.

I was blown away. 

It truly is a wonder – a testament to incredible engineering and amazing vision and maybe a little bit of dictatorial leadership. Thinking about the thousands of people who spent hundreds of years constructing this marvel (which you immediately do – it’s CRAZY that humans built this thing) made me move very quickly from the wow to the why.

What could have been worth so much time and effort and money and lives? Why did China so desperately want a wall?

Well of course.


That elusive concept of feeling secure and powerful and protected. The goal that is always just a bit out of reach.

Towering jagged mountains weren’t enough – they needed a wall on top of those mountains. One extra layer of defense from the enemies outside.

To their credit, their system was incredible and did do an impressive job of deterring the Mongolians for centuries. But still. Even the best wall can’t keep out danger forever. And if you hole up behind it too long, all of a sudden you find yourself so isolated, so constrained, that the danger begins to well up within you. Threats aren’t always external.

Beyond the current political relevance of a wall (don’t even get me started), I began to realize that China’s effort to protect itself speaks a lot to my own experiences with fear.

How often do I recognize something scary and immediately decide to keep it out? To build a barrier between it and me?

Sometimes this is wise. I’m all for the walls that stand between me and meth, for example. Or malaria mosquitoes. I’m going to keep those barriers up.

But I’m beginning to realize that the walls I normally build stand between me and people.

They aren’t built out of hatred, they are built out of fear. Out of a lack of understanding. Out of a nervousness of the other – a nervousness that my power and position might soon be threatened.

And that’s insane.

Because I don’t want a reputation like China – one where I’m known for being smart and well educated and closed off and focused primarily on my own ideas.

I don’t want to be known for building a really impressive, beautiful wall.

I want to be known for celebrating others and welcoming new friends and doing everything I can to learn about the things that are foreign to me. I want to be known, not for walls, but for loving people well.


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