Exploring Philosophy, Virtue

Proverbs: Good fences make good neighbours

Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) is credited with saying that ‘a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience’. Proverbs are often centuries old, providing us with global wisdom’s that have remained relevant throughout time.

This proverb dates back as far as 1640, as seen in E. Roger’s ‘Letter in Winthrop’- “A good fence helpeth to keepe peace between neighbours…”. Famously, it appeared in Robert Frost’s poem ‘North of Boston’ in 1914- “My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says ‘Good fences make good neighbours”.

In the past, this proverb has often been used in quite a literal sense.

It’s been written of in many different forms to describe how physical boundaries help keep good relations between land owners. Erecting and maintaining good fencing stops animals from crossing over between fields and avoids disagreements and grievances between farmers. Even when used in this literal sense, there is a broader message we can take from it.

Fences are both literally and figuratively, a symbol of boundaries.

They are there to say that what is within these bounds is mine, and should not be interfered with or encroached upon. They exist to keep what is within safe, and keep any posing threats out. Fences are a symbol of privacy. They suggest that what is within their bounds is expected to be safe from external interference.

Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships.

Boundaries become more defined and rigid as we move out from our inner circle, but even the most intimate relationships have boundaries. A relationship where we reduce and expose ourselves completely to any and all types of behaviour, is not a good one. We should have a clear and defined idea of how we wish to be treated, and how we intend on treating the other. These boundaries are in place to nurture relationships, not to minimize or limit them.

It may sound odd, but to live happily with other people we need to put up fences.

We all must maintain and protect our own safety and wellbeing, then that of our families, our friends and on throughout our circle. When these boundaries are respected by others, trust is built and harmonious relationships can flourish. So, although they may seem divisive and isolating, boundaries are in fact a necessary element in a successful relationship that will sustain itself over time.

Jean-François Millet, The Sheepfold, Moonlight, 1856-1860
Tagged , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *