Wall builder or destroyer? Choose.

We were there in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Now the walls are going back up. – Bono, talking to the BBC in December 2016

Greetings, mesdames et messieurs.

I hope this toasty January finds you in scintillatingly cheerful humour.

That line by Bono has stuck in my craw ever since U2 did that gig with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in December.


They are everywhere.

Inevitably, a wall is the first or second thing your eyes focus on when you wake up.

You’d have to be a Bedouin, or sleeping rough on the prairie, to avoid seeing a wall first thing in the morning. And it won’t be long before you do see one, unless you don’t get up.

What are they good for?

(1) Keeping undesirable elements out

Without walls, you’d have felt a tad chilly when you opened them lids.

Walls allow us to control our environment. They exclude all those molecules not vibrating quite enough to guarantee your survival through the night.

They also keep out other undesirable elements that might endanger our slumber. You know.


Loud louts, staggering home from the pub.

Lawyers. Insurance brokers.

Spiders. (Although, as my arachnophobic daughter would’ve opined loudly a few nights ago, when I was summoned me to deal with the intruder, They don’t seem to do a very good job of that!)

Certain relatives.

(2) Keeping desirable elements in

Children, for example.

I was grateful for walls when the Arachnophobe was small and sleepwalking. She’d come down the stairs, and one look at her face told us that the lights were on, nobody home.

My wife tells me that her brother would sleepwalk and head out the front door in a raging blizzard. “I’m going to Jeffrey’s.”

“No you’re not. It’s 11pm, cold out, and Jeffrey’s asleep. Go back to bed.”

“Oh. Okay.” Turns around, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. Clunk.

You definitely want walls at those times.

(3) Supporting other walls

One wall on its own doesn’t do much. Includes and excludes nothing, might even be unstable and a safety risk.

Tie another wall in at right angles, and it’s more stable. Tie another one in, add a ceiling, presto. Hard to knock down. They all back each other up.

What does all this mean for Bono’s statement?

What physical walls do for our physical environment, psychological (or emotional) walls do for the psychological environment.

Psychological walls keep out people we don’t like, or whom we fear.

Psychological walls keep in people we do like, who benefit us, whom we don’t want to lose. (Or so we tell ourselves.)

And building psychological walls also emboldens other wall builders.

For the last quarter century, wall destroyers were generally dominant.

But the pendulum has now swung. The builders are back. And they’ve got momentum.

Which one are you?

If you reflect honestly, you’ll say, both. At times, I’ve built walls, and at times, I’ve razed them.

But it matters that you think about it.

If you build a wall, you’re going to include somebody, and exclude somebody else.

The nice thing about physical walls is, air and water molecules don’t have ego’s. They don’t have souls and spirits.

You won’t hear any vapours shrieking with rage at being left out in the cold as you close your windows and turn out the light.


If you build a wall, you’d better be darn sure that you don’t mind angering the excluded. You’d better be confident that those you’ve included are thrilled with the security and restrictions you’ve just imposed on them.

Good luck with that.

And you might just find that your wall has encouraged someone else to build a wall, that now exludes you.


Be sure your fortress can never become your prison.

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