People would not be being blasted by bombs in Gaza or lying dead in the sunflower fields of Ukraine, were it not for men fighting over borders.
We often hear that religion has been the cause of most of the world’s wars. Sure, hard to argue with that. But there's also the business of borders, first invented way back in ancient history by tribes who liked their valley or plain or hillside or slice of seashore, and wanted it to keep it for themselves.
The thinking is that the land I stand on is mine and that bit over there is yours. We’ve worked hard to stake our claim and survive here and this place is now embedded in our stories and our hearts. We may trade and even intermarry with you, but if you make a move to invade us or take what we see as ours, then sharpen your weapons – for we shall fight you for it.
Of course, borders have changed over time – a map showing just how much Europe and Central Asia have altered is now doing the rounds on social media. Armies have rampaged back and forth, men and women have been slaughtered by the million… all because chiefs and kings decided what they really, really wanted was to own and control more territory.
Humans should have seen the insanity of that proposition when the space race began half a century ago. For the first time ever, we could get far enough away to see that there was just one blue world for us all to live on. And that from out there, no borders were detectable at all.
In our heads we see dotted lines separating nations, and washes of colour denoting different countries sitting side by side. Old school atlases matter-of-factly presented these images to generations of children. The 19th century Japanese plate above shows how universal was the idea of division.
These things all said, this is the way the world is.
Not so. They are figments of our imagination. They are no more real than dreams. They are a story we tell ourselves. They are a story we need to reframe if we are ever to put a stop to the bloodshed.
We can look to the European Union as a hopeful sign. Fighting the people next door was once a way of life. But since World War II there's been a remarkable degree of peace and you can now drive over most borders in that part of the world without even showing ID, let alone sharpening your sword.
As with everything that matters, borders have their good and bad sides. Countering the negative stuff is the other truth – that people living within their own enclaves have developed art, language, music, rituals and imagery that is precious to every nation.
We don’t want a world so bland that we lose those things. Working out how to stop the conflicts while still retaining the best of the heritage is one of the biggest challenges for the 21st century.
Some gutsy pioneers are already leading the way by working without bias or preference, regardless of where on Earth they are or who they’re with.
For example, think of the world's many international charities. And the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, and Reporters Without Borders, made up of people willing to risk their lives to follow their calling.
And there’s more – Speakers Without Borders, Mathematics Without Borders, Sports Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, Retirement Without Borders, and – inevitably – Apps Without Borders.
Some of these aren’t humanitarian movements at all but titles of conferences and products – but ‘without borders’ is tag-line that’s spreading. We seem to be liking the concept of a world without divisions. There's much to do but it's an idea whose time has surely come.