Beyond Maps: The Fluid Concept of Borders

—By Joyce Ji


several hands all reaching out for one hand

When someone asks you, “What is a border?” what is your first instinctive thought?

Personally, the first definition that came to mind was provincial or international boundaries. However, what I thought to be a straightforward question turned out to be a highly personal, worldview-driven, and fluid term with various meanings.

During the panel session “Environmental Work Without Borders” moderated by Narratives founder Somia Sadiq, I was astonished by how many ways the panellists (Robert Lacy, Brandon Smith, and Sarah Aube) had defined a border to be. They mentioned that although they saw borders as geospatial and physical boundaries, as I did, they also saw borders as the finish lines of a project or as societal norms and challenges that we, as a worldwide community, will be fighting together.

When discussing some challenges, they had faced in establishing or even breaking down borders, each panellist had unique experiences there. Sarah spoke of challenges she’s faced in defining the borders of her professional work, which resonated with me as both a female and a person just starting to enter the workforce. She discussed her feelings on experiencing imposter syndrome in her workplace as jobs were placed on her, which I think is something many people can relate to. Another one of the panellists (Robert) spoke to the challenges he’s overcome when hiring across borders, especially pertaining to the various ways of life we are still learning how to accommodate as a country. The final panellist, Brandon, spoke of the challenges he’s seen in finding the balance between fluidity and open communication between communities, meeting deadlines, and producing deliverables.

A line of different sized wooden fence posts

Another important border brought to light was the intergenerational borders that split our workplaces into one overblown stereotype after another.

I had a conversation with Robin Cox, one of the opening plenary session panellists, where we elaborated on some of the conversations about “quiet quitting” in the younger generations. She talked about the beauty in the shifting boundaries between workers and their work and how institutions will have to change to retain the people they need and stay on top of their field. They will have to adjust how they operate to accommodate their new workers and the shift in skills that this generation can offer that might have been overlooked in the past.

Overall, the conversations were hard and required a lot of vulnerability, so I wanted to say how thankful I am that I could see these conversations happen at such a large scale. I also wanted to point out that these conversations were not only limited to individual experience but were overarching issues nearly every speaker, moderator, and panellist at this event mentioned.

To finish off, I wanted to list four of the key takeaways I had from our talks about “What is a border?” as I believe they will be relevant to anyone willing to take the time to hear them:

  1. We must develop adaptive mindsets to pivot to better ways of hiring, interacting with one another, and running our companies.
  2. Without widespread systems changes, we will never be able to fully appreciate how amazing and underused our workforce is-especially the workforce coming from across our nation’s borders.
  3. Borders are something everyone understands differently, and by opening our ears and minds to different interpretations, we can build a more rounded understanding of the communities around us.
  4. There are psychological borders in our thinking that we must overcome because what is it but not insanity to continue doing something or believing in a practice that doesn’t work and hoping for a different outcome (as inspired by Somia Sadiq).

Joyce Ji, Planning Intern