Ever since the world’s existed
There’s one thing that is certain
There are those who build walls
And those who open doors…
Jackson Browne, Walls and Doors
I am drawn to these lyrics. I can’t stop thinking about them. I play this great Jackson Browne song during the cool-down/stretch portion of my exercise classes, and even though I’ve heard it dozens of times, it re-inspires me every single time.
Which am I, y’all? A wall builder, or a door opener? Which are you? I would like to be the latter—100 percent of the time. Clearly though, I’m not there yet. However, I will say I have learned that, for me, wall building is a very dangerous occupation. It nearly killed me once. So, you’d think I’d’ve learned to put down my trowel and mortar when feeling threatened, and instead open my heart, open a door, connect with another human.
And usually now, I do, because I’ve decided that the desire of my heart is to encourage and understand you, not to hide from you. I cannot do that from behind a wall.
But still, at times, I struggle to stay open. It is easy to do with those who do not oppose you; very hard with those who do. And it could be argued that walls are a necessary construct in relationships that are demeaning or abusive—that doors are an invitation to more misery. And in the case of actual physical or emotional abuse, of course, extrication is key. I’m all about getting out of harm’s way when threatened with violence. Use the door—to exit.
But most of our interactions with others are not so sinister—or not until we make them so in our heads alone behind our walls where we have plenty of time to obsess and ruminate, and endlessly update our victim status. I have done this. It is an awful, pitiful way to live. I don’t want to do it anymore.
I look around me—and never in my life has it been clearer to me—I want to be like the door openers of this world. They are the cool kids on the block, and they are everywhere. During these last few years of tough transitions and new ventures, I have knocked on more doors than the Jehova’s Witnesses. And I am astonished at how many have opened graciously to me.
Back in the early ‘80s, I wanted to be like Rachel McLish—the gorgeous ground-breaking female bodybuilding champion. I read everything I could about her, and tried to copy her diet, workouts and fitness fashions. These days my ambitions are much loftier, albeit less glamorous. They lean more toward the metaphysical than the physical. And my role models are not media celebrities. No, they are the “quiet teachers” all around me. You may be one of them. And like I watched McLish way back when, I now watch y’all, and this is what I’m learning:
- •Door openers are confident—though they are often too humble to recognize their own magnanimity. They do not get their feelings hurt in petty misunderstandings. They do not imagine that people don’t like them or are out to “dis” them. They never feel victimized. And most of all, they give people the benefit of the doubt, they give them grace—especially family members and long-time friends. Every time, not just when they’re in a good mood.
- •Door openers are responsive—and they are reliable. They return calls. They respond to texts and emails within a reasonable amount of time. They open doors, literally, when someone knocks. They are conscientious about following through with their commitments, and when “something comes up,” they are truthful, apologetic, and eager to reschedule. They are on time. They do not make excuses, and they never say (as I have been known to), “My phone messed up—I didn’t see your text (call, email, sky-writing).” They do not blame technology or play dumb about technology (again, as I habitually do) when they miss a communication.
- •Door openers are direct—No mind-reading required. They don’t expect you to read between the lines because they have intentionally left that space blank. They have no hidden agendas or unspoken grievances. They talk to you, not about you, if conflict arises. They are clear about their expectations and are genuinely interested in understanding yours. They can disagree with you and still appreciate you.
- •Door openers are generous—They have what Stephen Covey referred to as an “Abundance Mentality.” They know that there is enough to go around—be it money, recognition, success or jelly beans. Their jar is full—self-replenishing actually. The more they give away, the more is returned to them. They want you to succeed and they spend time thinking of ways to help you do just that. And again, the more success they foster in you, the more success seems to befall them.
- •Door openers are encouraging—They are positive. They are inclusive and welcoming. And they just seem so happy—joyful actually. They laugh easily and don’t take themselves too seriously. They help you to relax as well. They enjoy your company, and they are not afraid to let it show.
Of course, no one can hit all of these marks all of the time, and sometimes even the most gracious of door openers reverts to brick-laying in times of great stress. But they are not comfortable in the victim role, and their walls end up being measly little structures, barely fences, that they abandon just as soon as they get their bearings back.
So now, I’m sure you want the corresponding bulleted list of Wall Builder qualities. So here it is:
- •Wall Builders are afraid.
There’s not a whole lot more to say about them. They’re scared. Sadly, fear manifests itself in behaviors ranging from passive aggressiveness, to negligence, to hostility, to all-out physical or emotional abuse. But it’s all the same root emotion. They are afraid. Their walls are meant to protect them. Vulnerability is unbearable for them. There are too many risks there by the door.
Ah, well, maybe so. But I’ve decided that I don’t care. I want to be a door opener even if it sometimes costs me. I recently had a new friendship that abruptly ended in the most perplexing and painful of ways. I was sad and bewildered—and hurt. I still don’t understand what happened. It was truly a bizarre scenario. Well-meaning friends and family have since advised me to be more careful with my friendship—with my love—suggesting that I could have avoided the pain of this loss. But in eschewing the pain, I would also have sacrificed the pleasure of this person—and more importantly, I would have avoided the opportunity to grow and learn a lesson or two. And the lesson was not to be less trusting. No, this loss, as hostile as it was, has made me want to be not less, but more compassionate. I could not scale her wall; she had built it solidly, without a single toe-hold or crack. And I couldn’t help but imagine how lonely it must be back there.
Sometimes walls have an electrified fence around them. I was once told in writing by a friend that she had “no use” for me. Which, in retrospect, was a good thing. No one enjoys being “used.” I’m glad she told me. But still, as unkind and demeaning as her parting words to me were (and they were really awful) I learned so much about myself—and about my sturdy support system. Plus, I got a really, really good story out of it (Flower Power and the Mean Girls). But I do not try to scale her wall. My climbing energy is best spent elsewhere.
If I’m gonna climb—I want my direction to be “up,” not “over” into someone else’s misery. This is a problem for me. I’m working on it. Too often I find myself in dangerous territory when I try to drag people out from behind their walls in an attempt to get along. I expend so much energy getting over their barriers that by the time I get to them, I’m too exhausted to get either of us out. They don’t want to leave anyway. They built that wall for a reason. So if I’m gonna climb, I want to reach, to extend upward, toward ideals that matter to me—not languish behind someone else’s wall where I am blinded to all of the open doors on the other side.
I want to be a first-rate door opener, the best in the biz, like so many women I’ve enjoyed the company and influence of over the last couple of years. (I made a list—there were 31 women on it!) Y’all are my inspiration, and you know who you are.
You encourage. You embrace. You respond. You trust. You share.
You are not closed off. You are not envious. You are not suspicious. You are not petty. You are not afraid.
And ironically, you make my world a safer place, not by building walls, but by opening doors.
“Ah, but this my love, I’m thinking you already knew,” to continue to quote Jackson Browne. Thank you.
So, do you see yourself as a wall builder or a door opener? How do you think others see you? Are your answers different depending on the person involved? Do you open doors for your children, for example, but build walls with your spouse? Who is a great door opener in your life? Tell them. Go ahead, do it now.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
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