Dallas Smith's Blog

Food for Thought: Crossing Borders

When Susan was working on her PhD at the Fielding Graduate University prior to graduating in 2011, we attended every annual session plus some regional meetings through the year. Since she finished, we had not attended a Fielding event for the last couple of years until this year’s annual meeting in Santa Barbara, California. It was with great pleasure that I got the chance to spend a few days with the brilliant faculty and students of Fielding. The group meetings were very stimulating and informative.

A small meeting regarding the current state of “media” (i.e. all forms of communication, from legacy technologies to the internet) was disturbing in its implications. “Big Data” refers to the comprehensive data that can be collected through a study of one’s internet surfing habits, as well personal information that is sometimes collected without the owner’s permission. The disruptive effects of big data are changing our personal security. As we all spend countless hours online, personal “invisibility” is probably an illusion. Government security organizations, as well as retail corporations and search engines, routinely collect and analyze personal data for every person using a personal computer.

The second big societal disruptor is robotics/automation. Some experts estimate, that by the year 2025, over a billion jobs worldwide (perhaps approaching 50% of regular workers) could be replaced by robots and computer automation. One example: Mitsubishi (Japanese automaker) built two factories, one totally automated in Japan, and the other in India employing (relatively) low-cost workers. The factories each produced the same model vehicle, so it was easy to compare the outcomes. The production cost of the Indian-made vehicles continues to climb, while the Japanese robotic/computer-built autos continue to fall in cost. Imagine, even the low wages of India are not able to compete with the reduced costs that result from implementing the latest robotic production techniques.

I attended two sessions that included small-group discussions as well as personal drawing exercises. The general discussions were great opportunities to consider life’s big questions: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What is the meaning of it all? Perhaps the only times we routinely consider these questions are at church services and funerals. Thus, Fielding qualifies as an “ivory tower of academia.” It is a liberal enclave of high-achieving intellectuals. I loved it…hobnobbing with academically-engaged individuals, most of whom are accomplished professionals in their respective fields. Similarly, Susan and I have Healing Healthcare Systems as our careers and the source of our main professional experience. 


Slide captured from the presenter's powerpoint

I will describe one of the workshops in detail. The advertised title was “Crossing Borders.”

We began by going around the circle, introducing ourselves, and briefly describing borders in our personal lives that we had crossed. Some of the personal stories that were told made me feel like I have lived a relatively sheltered life. One workshop participant grew up in an Iranian town on the border with Iraq. At age sixteen, war broke out between Iran and Iraq. The forces of Saddam Hussein destroyed her hometown. Luckily, her parents were traveling away from their home and thus were spared being killed in the extensive bombing. She ended up living in Germany for ten years, moving for several years to England, and finally settling in the US. She plans to meet her parents and other relatives this summer in the relatively neutral Turkey. She does not dare to return to Iran as an American. Crossing borders for her defined distinct and separate chapters of her life.

We discussed physical/geographic borders before moving into the many other types of borders. Here is a partial list other types of borders:

  • Linguistic: borders are delineated by different music, art, and poetry.
  • Cultural: borders are differentiated by geography, history, and group identification.
  • Economic: borders are defined by resource differences in different regions.
  • Ethnic: borders are defined by tribal affiliations and nationalistic identities.
  • Religious: differences usually have historical roots.
  • Sexual: borders are defined by roles inculcated by beliefs and traditions.

Crossing any of these borders can affect individuals for the rest of their lives.

Crossing these borders can be facilitated by outside forces, such as the internet, education, intermarriage, transportation, migration, and changing current events.

Internal forces that can lead to the crossing of borders include:

Thinking out of the box, rebelling, contradicting established wisdom, violating social norms, seeking diverse opinions, experimenting, non-conformity, and courage. 

DSC01585 The hills separating Santa Barbara from California's central valley. Last year, forest fires destroyed many expensive homes in the hills.

Originally, natural geographic barriers created the universal borders. Take for example, the border between land and sea. After millions of years, courageous reptiles slithered from the sea onto the land. Evolution led to animals, and eventually humans, populating the whole world, from the tropics to the arctic, from the plains to the mountains. Relatively recently, humans crossed the barrier between the earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Natural barriers have mostly been overcome.

Ultimately, the borders in the world exist most strongly in our minds. The biggest barriers to crossing borders are our inability or unwillingness to change our consciousness in ways necessary to break down the barriers that create the borders that limit our potential. Global climate change is an example of a border that needs to be crossed. In this case, inertia is the barrier to that border that eventually must be crossed. How bad must circumstances become before we, as a species, overcome the barriers of inertia and complaisance that prevent us from crossing the climate change border that is growing, based on our current carbon-caused climate disruption?


The border between nature and technology: Note the oil extraction platforms (several of many) just off the Santa Barbara coast.

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