That picture up there is me on the Great Wall of China this past February. In a communist country still known largely for its great walls -- the ancient one and its contemporary, the government-controlled and censored internet system -- there I am, standing on top of one and circumventing another by posting that picture directly to my Facebook timeline right while I was standing there, using an iPad connected through a virtual private network to my cellular data plan.
Something about us drives us to build walls. Maybe it's to keep us safe. Maybe it's to keep others out. Maybe it's some other rationale or motivation.
It's not just anicent China trying to keep the Mongol hordes at bay or modern China attempting to protect its citizens against the creep of Western ideology. We do it ourselves in more subtle ways, with fences around our lots and garage doors that we can open with a button so we don't have to get out of the car and risk any real interaction with the neighbors. Smiling and waving as we are coming and going is so much more comfortable.
We also build figurative walls, intentionally or not, between ourselves and others who are a different political persuasion, a different race or ethnicity, or a different religion or denomination. And when we do finally venture a peek over the fence after years of hiding in our houses and reinforcing our ideals through the intentional avoidance of anything that might challenge them, we're shocked to find that "they" on the other side of the wall have been doing exactly the same thing, and now we're more different than ever. Before we know it, the walls have robbed us of our ability to even listen to each other, much less hear.
But as much as we are inclined to build walls, there is also something within us that absolutely loves to tear those suckers down. The Manchus eventually breached the only man made structure that you can see from the moon (this is not a comment on the nobility of the breach, just an observation that the wall was defeated), and in any event, machines that flew made the technology obsolete. [CORRECTION: That you can see the Wall from the moon is apparently an oft-repeated myth that is now busted thanks to an email from reader Logan.] And I'm convinced based on conversations I've had with people who should know that it's just a matter of time before China either loosens or loses its chokehold on the internet over there. It's possible that it's already begun and that the government has simply decided that it's better to let the air out of the balloon slowly rather than startle 1.6 billion people and a planet along with them. And hey, the Berlin Wall didn't just cease to become effective, that thing actually came down.
The other kinds of walls, the ones that divide along ideological and stereotypical lines, sometimes fall as well, although it's too often still a race between those removing the bricks and those piling them on. Some of my absolute favorite movies of all time are about the overcoming of these kinds of walls within the context of sports. There are many examples, but Remember the Titans stands out to me as one that is particularly well done, and because the hipster vaccine has inoculated me against hating on movies just because they're widely loved by millions of people, I am a sucker for movies like that. What's not to love about sports as the vehicle for not only breaking barriers but for setting the stage for meaningful relationships that would never happen if we never hung out with anyone who wasn't exactly like us? I'll take that all day.
This isn't a post about racial integration in SEC sports, but that's certainly one of the best examples of what I'm talking about. Tennessee has Lester McClain and Condredge Holloway, and every other school in the south has its own similar stories.
But the barriers between us aren't just racial, they're political and religious and whatever else is absolutely taboo among strangers but less so among friends. In an increasingly niche world, big tents are an increasing rarity. But being a Tennessee Volunteer fan means only one thing: You love the Vols. And when we're talking about the Vols, little else matters and our walls do not keep us from building a relationship. It's a safe environment that enables people with different ideas on different subjects to interact with each other by focusing on their common interests without regard to their differences and to table discussion of those differences for another day, a day when relationship has already been built and people can hear and listen instead of shout and offend because they're friends instead of strangers.
I love seeing walls that divide good people from each other reduced to rubble. I love seeing folks, folks whose differences would have precluded them from ever even meeting each other, instead become friends simply because they both cheer for the Vols.
I'm a Vols fan. You're a Vols fan. It's not that the other stuff doesn't matter. It does. But being Vols fans brings us together and enables friendships that might never have existed if we weren't both cheering for our guy running into the checkerboards. I couldn't be more grateful for that opportunity.
Note: None of the above sentiments are applicable to Alabama or Florida fans, who are utterly contemptible. ;-)