Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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The Walls We Build

I'm thinking about paying an annual fee to become a member of Delta's airport lounge system. This would get me access to a whole world of amenities at many of the airports I visit, traveling as much as I do. Truthfully, I marvel at what awaits inside. I read online about the snacks and the drinks and the WiFi and the newspapers and (in some cases) the showers and I can't wait until one day I get to walk inside and know I belong. And that's the ultimate allure, the belonging, isn't it? Surely, I could save money by buying a newspaper or snack in the main terminal with all the less-fortunate souls. So it's not the perks as much as the membership in something that seems exclusive that appeals so much to me.

So it is with any walls we see erected in our path. What's on the other side? we wonder to ourselves and our close friends. Is it worth joining? Would they really let me be a part of it? What will happen when I'm 'in'?

It feels like that when you're a freshman and considering rushing a fraternity or sorority. It feels like that when you visit a new church or interview for a job or start making new friends or move to a neighborhood or find a MeetUp group. Can I be a part of this?

And then we learn the rules. Every group has a wall, a barrier to entry and access, keeping it closed off to absolutely everyone. Otherwise, there would be no mystique or even benefit to joining. If everyone could walk into the airport lounge, it becomes no different than the rest of the terminal where free newspapers are only had by lurking at a gate whose flight is boarding and scrounging for one a passenger left behind on her way to the plane.

But, not all walls are necessary and many should be redefined. Some walls are offensive and archaic, based solely upon gender or race for no good reason. Others are silly, made of ritual and tradition that are no longer formative or important. And some exist merely because of geography or income and aren't as prestigious as they seem.

We need to rethink our walls.

Robert Frost's The Mending Wall is wise in its words:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down.

Walls are as only as good, in my opinion, as the people inside them. I don't care much for your fraternity or church or giving circle if it's full of bigoted, obtuse, ignorant fools who only like to think themselves important. In fact, if I get in your club by jumping through a series of hoops only to find I became worse in the process, then your walls were nothing but time-wasting nonsense.

Rather, the walls themselves should consist of the caliber of the character of the members. A neophyte should wonder Am I as good as those inside, those I admire? or Will membership improve who I am? One shouldn't ask himself Can I meet the requirements of membership? but rather Can I live up to the incredible standards of humanity that those inside seem to set on a daily basis?

Walls should make things better, not just exclusive. Are the walls of your organization (the requirements for members) making the people on the inside better?

If not, then I recall another famous wall quote, something to the effect of it needing to be torn down.

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