Between the Lines

Posted: December 7, 2011

The Invisible Wall

Olivia Dorow-Hovland, Talon staff writer

Barriers exist between people. Whether they be physical, like the Berlin Wall, or social, like the divide between people of different income levels, or even political, like segregation and apartheid, there has never been a time when the human race has lived in complete unity.

Harry Bernstein’s The Invisible Wall examines the subtle animosity that existed between Jews and Protestants in England during World War II. These people were not directly faced with the brutality of the war but the perceived differences between the two groups still forced them apart. In this case, it was the street running between their two rows of houses that served as the barrier. No one would ever cross to the other side. Until someone did.

The people living in the houses believed that their differences were irreconcilable. They got word of the goings on from the other side of the street by way of corner store gossip or from the few exchanged words that, in their rarity, seemed to be heavy with meaning and were always fully dissected. The inhabitants’ inability to break down the barriers between them may seem to be petty foolishness to the modern observer, but such hesitancy and even animosity exists today in more magnified forms.

It is people’s beliefs that seem to shape who they are. There are Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, activists, and pacifists in this world. And along with these labels comes alienation. They are harbingers of exclusivity, prejudice, and hate.

But such rigid characterizations of a person can only reach so deep. They may be necessary to help create order in society, grouping the most similar and compatible people with others who share their preferences. However, this should not  discourage the overall interaction of all members of society as a whole.

What people fail to realize is that humans are humans. All of the seven billion inhabitants of this planet are fundamentally alike. There is no barrier so concrete that it can deny that. And it has been neglect of this one small truth that has resulted in some of history’s most appallingly divisive events.

The leaders of today, the communities that support them, and the citizens that shape the nature of each all have responsibilities. It is no longer acceptable to use labels as excuses for ignorance. A lesson should be learned from the neighbors in The Invisible Wall. As Bernstein wrote in his novel, “We’re not very different from one another, not different at all in fact. We’re all just people with the same needs, the same desires, the same feelings. It’s a lie about us being different.”

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