After firing too many personal questions at me, the hospital’s admitting rep barked, “Do you have an Advanced Medical Directive?” When I nodded, she snapped, “We’re gonna need that.”

Having lived my life in God’s loving embrace, I believe I will, when the time comes, walk through the doorway to the other side of life with confidence and peace. I’m also confident that Joanne and our children can make any decisions necessary for my care or my body.

The medical industry loves them because of convenience and efficiency, but no one is required to execute an “AD.” I only have one for my family; they can use it however they wish in the totality of what seems right at that time. I will never give it to the industry.

Rough Answers

The core truth of that episode for me was that a large organization, literally holding the power of life and death, appeared oblivious of my personal space and boundaries. Every day they handle human life. But, in my case, they didn’t show the restraint, respect, or care matching their role and power.

Perhaps my case was unusual. But I felt like I was in an auto body shop; people who did not know or care about me banged, slammed, jerked, and hammered my heart into conformity with their preferences and needs.

Since that day, seventeen months ago, I’ve been increasingly sensitized to a societal disregard or ignorance of boundaries. Our ethos seems to be inching closer to if I see it and need it, I can take it. That leads to the social condition described by an ancient proverb, “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly.”[1]

Too many people live on the receiving end of harsh hands and rough answers.

Do we really not know that the landscape of health, wealth, mortality, property, income, and identity is very personal real estate? If I – regardless of my legal authority or job description – were to ask someone for his or her salary, social security number, credit score, urine sample, or Advanced Directive, I’d do so very gently, carefully, and contritely.

And I would fully understand if they told me to go to Phoenix.

The Restraining Force of Law

Although they were not all Christians, America’s founding fathers accepted the Christian idea of “the depravity of man,” meaning that every human is born with a serious defect, a corruption of thinking and behavior. Because of that, we humans are prone to living a self-centered life, a life that is naturally all about me.

A primary evidence of that “me-ness” is our failure to recognize and respect boundaries. For example, infidelity is far more than a sensual search; it’s also a rejection of boundary lines. How many people, on a sexual quest, pause long enough to consider the terrain of the other person’s health, character, reputation, income, family, or future?

Laws exist because of human depravity; they restrain the rush of anarchy. Today, as so many voices despise and reject law enforcement, I often think of Thomas More’s words to William Roper in A Man For All Seasons: “This country’s planted thick with laws, from coast to coast…And if you cut them down… d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”[2]

We should all pray that the rampant and increasing lawlessness in our society does not become a hurricane of social chaos. And we should all do what we can to stop the removal of the boundary lines that protect people, property, ideas, and traditions.

What If?

Every religion on earth proclaims a version of The Golden Rule – usually rendered “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is the most perfect law ever conceived.

So, what if we all…

  • Do to others what we would like done to us?
  • Live slower, more thoughtfully, and more respectfully?
  • Ask ourselves in every situation, “How would I want to be treated right here, right now?”
  • Teach our children to, first, see and then to respect boundary lines?
  • Wait to be invited across a boundary rather than invading it?
  • Stop wearing steel spikes as we walk across territories of the heart?


And finally, what if we all extend kind hands and speak gentle answers?

[1] Proverbs 18:23 taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.

[2] Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). P 66

17 thoughts on “Boundaries”

  1. Great piece, Ed. I do believe lack of civility is at least partly due to the lack of boundaries in our nation and society. I think in the founding years of our republic boundaries had the force of God and the symbols of one’s faith gave definition to these boundaries in marriage, family, friendship, neighborliness, and citizenship. By the time of de Tocqueville, the combination of the hegemony of powerful religious institutions into personal lives with the rising educated class schooled in Enlightenment philosophy and the growing power of our nation combined to weaken the bond of boundaries to God. Many saw the force and reason for societal boundaries in the vision of the American ideal. Taking on a divine right and imperative, these ideals evoked by our familiar national symbols became the reason for living within and respecting boundaries within our society. But 150 years later in our post-Vietnam, post-Nixon, post-Enlightenment, post-modern, post-theistic, post-national age, society has lost any force that gives reason and value to boundaries. In this vacuum, the selfish nature of man has been released from the bonds of boundaries to create the movement of a selfie society. How do we tame this “hurricane of social chaos” and restore a civility that requires the boundaries of the past? What will give them force and reason in our current secular society so skeptical of the American ideal? Big questions. Any answer must include your admonition to teach children to see boundaries and also see some transcendent reason that makes them essential to having a civil society in which public rudeness and roughness becomes embarrassing again.

    1. Steve, that’s a great sweep of philosophy and history. Hey, you should do a book! Seriously. Love the phrase “selfie society.” Thank you so much.

  2. After waiting for who knows how long, my name was called and I obediently followed a medical tech down a hallway. The tech seemed all of 20 years old. She weighed me. She took my blood pressure. Then came a machine gun firing question period. “Why are you here?” “Do you have any STD’s.” I’m starting to get uneasy talking to a complete stranger about something so personal, but here came more. “Do have ED?” Now I’m starting to play stupid. “Do you own a gun?” Now that’s an odd question for someone who has come in to here the results of his blood test. I decided to give stupid answers, which comes natural. Me: I don’t even know what a gun is? Her: Do you take any illicit drugs? Me, going full bore stupid, “Like Aspirins?” She caught on then that I wasn’t co-operating and stopped the inquiry. I mentioned this to the doctor who blushed a little and he told me that this was what is now being required by the powers above, the insurers and government officials. A friend of mine who for years has taken a small sedative for anxiety when flying was asked if she had any guns in the house, where are they, and if she was religious? “The bigger the state the smaller the individual.” ~ Dennis Prager

  3. The old saying, “garbage in; garbage out,” applies, I think. If all our “entertainment” centers around boundaries being overrun or ignored,our society will reflect that. Any teacher will tell you, once you lose control of your class and the students will not follow rules, it is near impossible to regain control. Our society has shook lose many of our individual self controls, and we are much poorer for it. Can we return to the type of regard for others you so eloquently spoke of? I would like to believe we could. But I don’t have the answers. I will try and live with respect and regard for othets, in all situations.

  4. Mike Mikeworth

    Thanks Ed. I am just in the process of developing an Advanced Directive. This gives me pause…and a reason for deeper consideration.

    1. Some probably love them. I can see that they fill a role, but I’m concerned about the spirit of a bureaucracy. You can execute it, but keep it to yourself (for your family’s usage).

  5. Thank you for your insights. I only recently was required to re-enter the medical realm due to my age & social security stuff. I was ignorant of how ignorant I was. My first foray back was the very minimal requirement for the Medicare stuff… I was saddened to discover the ‘normal’ treatment given and the level of stupor visitors to the Dr. walk in.
    I have to go again…I learned it’s an annual thing and I’m already 3 months late. I’m not looking forward to it. It has stimulated my prayer life, so that’s a good thing. Thanks again, Ed.

    1. Thanks, Leo. I can imagine that touching the medical world for the first time in a while would be a surprising and daunting venture! Welcome to Medicare!

  6. Ed, this is a great article, but I have one concern. Why would you exempt law enforcement and military from the need to be kind and gentle? I understand that authority figures can’t afford to be viewed as anything less than strong, resilient and capable of representing the state and it’s demands. Yet, the need for respect and kindness conveyed by authority figures as they interact with all facets of society is not in conflict with the need to show force when necessary.
    I would argue that the need to respect one another’s boundaries is not limited to the common man and nor should it be excused by a badge or stripes.
    And yes, I understand that “all bets are off” once someone breaks the law; but even then I argue that levels of force should be commensurate with levels of resistance.

    1. Don, you’re right. I wrote it that way because of what I had just written earlier about the law as a bulwark against chaos. And I thought those who hold those positions should do THAT as job #1. But, that is too fine a point. So I’m changing it. You’re the third person to raise that concern. Thank you so much.

  7. Totally agree with you Ed! One quality of American society has been it’s proclivity to conquer new frontiers; I.e. surpass established boundaries. We have seen this as our country expanded westward. When we finished that expansion we found new social frontiers to expand. It seems to me that this mindset is now part of our DNA. So our society seems to value and embrace this “quality” even when it erodes our humanness by glibly demanding personal information. It leads me to wonder where it will end.

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