Silos & Walls

Photo by Redd Angelo

Not long ago, I was riding in the car with Andrew, my youngest son.  All at once he matter-of-factly proclaimed, “Daddy, I just saw a hawk.” Once I acknowledged his proclamation he followed in his customary manner by asking a question.

“Do hawks hurt people?”

“No,” I responded, “they don’t really bother people at all.”

“Do other birds bother people?” he asked.

“No,” I said, thinking this over a bit.  “Birds are just kind of doing their own thing.”  After a moment I added a caveat, “Well, birds will bother you if you get too close to their house, which is their nest.  They don’t like that.”

The answer satisfied him, and he entered back into his realm of contemplative thumb-sucking.  It satisfied me, too.  That is, until I realized how plainly I had created a metaphor.


For quite some time now I have been perturbed by silos.  They are everywhere, dotting the entire landscape.  They often seem innocuous and easily escape our notice.  It is quite a marvel how invisible something is when it’s so familiar.

Of course, silos are not native only to my region, but occupy other cities, towns, and constituencies throughout the world.  Silos are constructed over time by people.

Once constructed, they stand stubbornly, allowing little in or out.  Once within a silo, one doesn’t have much of a view.  The walls are sturdy and opaque.  Light and fresh air struggle to reach the occupants inside.

Yet, these occupants so often stand just as stubbornly within the silo’s walls as those walls themselves.  It’s as if there is no recollection of the life and energy offered by the world outside.  Only a death grip on whatever remains within the walls, and the uncertainty of what lies beyond.

But pity they who threaten the silo!

Any threats, of reality or perception, will be met with the wrath of the mama red winged blackbird.  What I didn’t have the heart to tell Andrew at the moment of his innocent questioning, was that some birds would peck your eyes out if they could.

Look Out Below!

I’m pretty sure this is what he was really looking for, but the likelihood he will need to worry about this before his brain development moves further along is slim.  Of course, I will have to tell him someday.

This actually used to be a fairly common concern for me.  Not too long ago I was (and hopefully will be again someday) a runner.  When I first found an interest in distance running, I was living in a small Iowa town that was almost a perfect five miles in running circumference.

Five miles wasn’t quite enough, so I found myself wandering country roads fairly often.  In the late spring and early summer, I often shared these roads with angry mama red-wing blackbirds who wanted to peck my eyes out.

It was fascinating and terrifying.  They had no idea who they were messing with and they didn’t care.  They had one concern as they screeched and swooped toward my flailing form.  “Stay the hell away from my nest!”

I always understood their motives, and how these motives mixed with rational fear brought on by evolutionary biology.  You can see crows, sparrows, and their relatives fending off birds and animals of prey, too.

The mama’s thoughts and actions were always in every way logical and substantiated by evidence.  Silos, on the other hand, fly right in the face of evidence and reason.

No Man’s Island

Photo by Steinar Engeland

People need one another.  Every one of us.  Our ancestors realized this from the very beginning.  This is why we pack ourselves together so tightly.

It’s obvious in cities, but even in towns.  A drive in any direction from my home will take you toward another little town with houses packed neatly next to one another in the middle of nowhere.

What is it, then, that drives us so far apart?  It’s the same two emotions that drove those red-winged mamas straight for my skull: greed and fear.

We are greedy by nature.  We tend to think of greed as a vice, but it’s actually a useful evolutionary trait.  Our bodies are built to survive.

We feel the need to make sure we have enough, to make sure we have more.  This is what makes greed such a tricky prospect.  We feel it so strongly it blinds our ability to think.

When we feel threatened by encroaching forces, and feel like we might lose what we have, our fear ignites.


Once that fear grabs hold, we mount our defense.  We defend our possessions, our land, our opportunities, and our power.  We build walls.

Photo by Andre Ferreira

We quickly identify who among us is on our team, and we retreat behind our walls together.  Then, we begin our attack.

Together, we rally around all of the things that make the groups on the other side of the walls different.  We find a way to make them “other”.

We call them terrorists, criminals, cheaters, illegals, Muslims, Mexicans.  These words calm our fears.  They convince us we are right and righteous.

We give ourselves completely to our greed and our fear, and we completely fail to see that none of this makes any sense at all.

This path has abandoned all logic and reason.  We have locked rational thought out of our silos and placed it on the other side of our walls.

There is a better way forward—open our eyes and open our ears.  Open our minds to real solutions.  Walls and silos are not the answer.  Retreat is not the answer.  In the recent words of Pope Francis, “All walls fall. All of them. Do not be fooled.”

We need each other.  We learn from each other.  Greed and fear are a part of our biology, but it is our ability to think, to reason, to understand, and to solve that makes us human.


River of stars. Disagreement.
Photo by Mark Basarab


We don’t solve problems by entrenching ourselves in disagreement.

This past weekend, two important events took place in the United States.  First, on Friday January 20, the country inaugurated Donald Trump as our country’s 45th president.

Then, on Saturday January 21, over one million people marched in the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches to protest the new president’s policy ideas and past statements.

Following the march, a friend of mine on Facebook shared this quote.

“Protesting ought to be used when human rights have been violated.  Protesting because you didn’t get your way is called a temper tantrum—no matter your age”.

Later, I read about a flurry of tweets during the inauguration pointed at the new President’s son, Barron Trump.

Several of these were shocking, but one stuck out to me as particularly malicious.

“#barrontrump looks like a future rapist”.

Hard Questions

It is no secret we are extremely divided in this point in United States history.  In 2014, the Pew Research Center released this report  on the drastic level of political polarization in the U.S.

Just before the 2016 election, another Pew report  found these divisions alive and well.

It seems we have some questions to ask ourselves:

Do we want so much disagreement?

Do we want racial divisiveness?

Do we want religious animosity?

Do we want poverty in our society?

Do we want people to be healthy and medically cared for?

Do we want an educated populace?

Do we want unwanted pregnancies?

Do we want crime?

Do we want to move forward together?

Sticks and Stones and Lots of Words

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by disparaging one another.

Calling the President’s son a vampire or millions of fellow Americans babies does absolutely nothing to foster solutions to social problems.

These actions do the opposite.  They build a wall directly in the way of solutions.  You don’t build a functioning healthcare system in this way, you don’t agree on reasonable immigration standards, and you don’t save any children of any age.

All you do is push us farther apart.

Hate the Player, Not the Game

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by attacking the personalities of others.

Many Republicans spent eight solid years decrying the despicable personality of Barrack Obama.  They called him weak, dishonest, untrustworthy, undiplomatic, and un-American.

Democrats are now taking their turn with Donald Trump.  They call him a misogynist, unfit for the presidency, deplorable, and a sexual predator.

Solutions do not arise from feelings of dislike or hatred toward another person or group.  We do not solve a single problem by attacking people for their personality traits.

All this does is push us farther apart.

Just the (convenient) Facts

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by only listening to the facts that are convenient for our “side”.

The Pew Research Center made an enlightening discovery in 2014 regarding how we get our information.    It turns out we focus on very different sources depending on our political affiliation.

opposites, disagreementAs they stated, “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.”

We cannot hear one another when we are not listening.  We cannot understand dissenting opinions without first listening to those opinions.

None of us is always right.  On the contrary, all of us are occasionally wrong.  Solutions only happen when we are all looking for true, verifiable facts.

If we want to solve problems, the only realistic choice is to cease debating on the merits of personality, and instead focus all debate on the merits of facts.

Out of Many, One

If we want to solve problems as a country of United States citizens, then we can choose to do so.

We could focus on the facts surrounding the problems we face.

In addition, we could encourage or discourage our elected leaders based on their actions instead of their personalities.

Currently, we are not collectively choosing this path.  Instead, we are focusing on what we like or dislike about our leaders and each other, attempting to “win” by making the “other side” look worse than us, and ignoring facts.

We have divided ourselves.

Following the election, a brilliant researcher and author Jonathan Haidt shared his thoughts on this in a TED talk.     According to Haidt, it all comes down to who is on our side.  If we see each other as Americans who are on the same side, we can shrink the divide standing between us.

He had what I thought was some great advice:

“I think you have to make an effort — that’s the main thing. Make an effort to actually meet somebody.  Everybody has a cousin, a brother-in-law, somebody who’s on the other side. So, after this election –wait a week or two, because it’s probably going to feel awful for one of you — but wait a couple weeks, and then reach out and say you want to talk.”

We can choose to solve our challenges in this country, but first we need to decide that we are on the same team.