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Abstract:
Just as a windstorm knocks down fences, struggles can unite strangers and overcoming barriers will improve communities.
Notes:

We can do without fences built by prejudice

by Ted Slavin

published in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, ON: 2011
It's been just over two weeks since that wicked windstorm swept through the Niagara region. Toppled trees, ripped roof shingles, and fallen fencing seemed to be everywhere you looked. Though our home had lost a few sections of fence and shingles, too, the damage was minimal compared to other properties. It was a depressing sight but my case of the blues wouldn't last very long once I realized the positive change the storm brought with it.

Before the windstorm, I had spoken only once with our neighbours who share our fence along the back of our lot. After the storm, we got together, surveyed the fence and, within minutes, had tools out and were rebuilding. With the natural getting-to-know-you conversations that come with any teamwork, we were surprised to realize that I had taught their granddaughter last year. When the subject of conversation turned to the anchoring of fence posts, I learned that our neighbour was in the concrete business. What happened next was uncanny.

As we were attaching some new brackets, my next-door neighbour came by with an impact driver to help. He told us that the wind had snapped a few fence posts in two and that we might need to bore new fence postholes and find concrete to fill them. "I think I know somebody who can help with the concrete," I said. And to finish off the circle, it turns out that another neighbour happens to work for a company that rents augers, meaning that my next-door neighbour had the resources to mend the fence available to him within 20 steps of his backdoor and never knew it before the storm had brought us together.

It's no secret that struggle will unite strangers. We've seen examples of this recently in the news covering the floods in Manitoba and Southern Quebec. People around the world have provided support to the citizens of Japan following the devastation of the recent quakes and tsunami. And of the many lessons we are learning from these disasters and how to lessen their impact in the future, the truth of our unity proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh resounds in my mind -"It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

Now zoom in the camera lens on our neighbourhoods here in the Niagara region. Consider the diverse resources that exist within our very own communities, the wealth of talents and skills. I know we need our privacy and understand the adage 'good fences make good neighbours', but I'm concerned that I've been really hiding behind the fence when it takes a devastating storm to get me out and show real friendship, not just chit-chat.

I'm not suggesting we tear down our backyard fences. The fences we can do without are the ones built in our minds -- prejudices. Religious differences, divisions of class and income, race, gender, age -- all of these fences we mentally build around each group and ideology are razed to the ground when something like a fierce storm reminds us that we are all human with the same basic needs, material and spiritual, to survive and progress.

While that windstorm was terrible, the aftermath was one of the best experiences my family has had since we moved to this neighbourhood last year. My daughter particularly enjoyed sharing an extended backyard with the kids next door. Still, we shouldn't need another storm to bring the community together when initiating and elevating our conversations above the price of gas will do the same, if not better. Conversations about serving the needs of our neighbourhood, the health and safety of our children, opportunities and venues for those of all faiths to offer prayers for the community's (and world's) wellbeing -- such a powerful expression of mankind's unity is type of storm I want to see.
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