When territory has been ceded to the point discomfort sets in and resentments start to brew, it’s either retreat or reconquer—retake, reclaim, and repossess.
Have you ever offered space in your home to someone who needed it, only to find yourself retreating into your bedroom because your home no longer feels like home? Have you ever taken on a friend as a roommate, only to discover they completely lack your perspective on critical compatibility issues—such as hygiene, cooking odors, or handling other people’s property? Were you left daunted as you imagined it requiring a list of rules the size of Texas, continual monitoring, and the inevitable end of your friendship to bridge that crucial chasm? Maybe you had so much else in common you never imagined what stark differences lurked beneath the surface, which only sharing common space 24/7 could reveal. Now, at your own behest no less, a portion of your home belongs to someone else. Meanwhile, the “liveability” of formerly shared spaces has lost so much viability it can no longer be ignored. The situation has literally made you feel like a stranger in your own home.
Nations and private property become highly analogous when it comes to situations of this order. I propose to illustrate how the fundamental crux of our immigration issue may be less about a clash of cultures or the complexities of nuanced identity politics, and more like a proverbial elephant creeping into the shared living room of our nation. When an “otherness” with ways, habits, and its own foreign “normality” crashes on our national couch, we may be facing a mutual dilemma of wanting to remain friends yet needing them to move on elsewhere.
The incompatibility dilemma.
Benjamin Franklin once said that houseguests, like fish, began to stink after three days. With the fish it is simply a matter of decay. Whether raw or cooked, the meat goes off and a foul odor ensues. With houseguests it is a bit more complicated. It involves both host and guest and the dynamic of hospitality which binds them. Eventually the roles of gracious host and polite guest exact their toll and weary the respective parties. As time passes, each can grow more desirous of returning to whatever he considers to be “normal life,” whether that involves feet on the furniture, indoor smoking and loud music, or dashing naked from shower to bedroom and arguing with one’s family minus an audience.
When we invite houseguests to remain indefinitely as roommates, over time the levels of exposure for each, to one another’s differences and less appealing attributes, can increase exponentially. Having a roommate is very much like getting married without ever having been engaged. The strain of unconscious expectations, the yearning for life to “return to normal,” and the tension of needing to relax in a situation where comfort and routine have been disrupted and set aside to accommodate one another, all lead to unpredictable frictions and put tremendous strain upon friendships.
Ironically, it is precisely the earnest attempt to preserve the friendship which hinders most the ability to carve a peaceful co-existence from a situation of fundamental dissonance. We can enjoy friendship with an incredible variety of people, appreciating their unique talents and perspective, enjoying their company and conversation, having a blast together at cookouts, outings, or gaming sessions. Yet most of us find the limit on the number of folks we can tolerate 24/7 caps out at one or two at best—and even with these, we must labor consistently at the fine arts of negotiation, of reciprocal give and take, to keep the experience pleasant for ourselves as well as for them. Make no mistake: enjoying another’s company, even having a multitude of common interests, neither guarantees, nor can substitute for, compatibility in close proximity on a daily basis.
From kitchen to living room to bathroom exist a multitude of differences in routine, comfort zones, habits, sensitivities and privacy levels. These can arise at any given time, and persist precisely because their incompatibilities make them fraught and laborious to confront. As the host tries to conceive a clear set of house rules to clear this all up, only to find that list growing longer and longer, and the prospect of enforcement daunting, a corrosive self-doubt begins to erode his resolve. Any reasonable doubt about his own reasonableness therein becomes problematic, wreaking mental havoc. Is it really wise to insist upon all these things? he finds himself asking. I invited my friend to stay here; isn’t it my duty to make their stay a pleasant one? And then, of course, how important are these issues anyway? Won’t they just go away if I force myself to be more patient and tolerant?
Recently I ended an arrangement where I had invited a friend to stay in my home indefinitely. Although he did his level best to be a good guest, and I stretched myself to the breaking point to be an accommodating hostess, in the end I found our personal habits, routines, and other “ways of being” simply to be at fundamental and irreconcilable odds with one another. After spending no less than two months agonizing over this, precisely because he was doing nothing that was actually wrong, in the end I concluded we would both be happier if he simply moved on. To impose a list of rules that would amount to changing the very architecture of his daily existence—and thereby force myself into a perpetual parental or policing role over conduct as alien to him as his habits were to me—seemed no more acceptable a solution than confining my own presence to my bedroom while seething with free-floating resentment over things that were essentially nobody’s fault.
It is nobody’s fault when one’s dietary habit involves the daily production of odors that literally make another sick to the stomach. It is nobody’s fault when there is not room enough in the freezer for one because of the other’s storage use. It is nobody’s fault when two people have intermittent insomnia cycling cursedly on each other’s good-sleep nights. It is nobody’s fault when one must sit upon the toilet in a shared bathroom at the exact time another will need the facility for over half an hour to get ready for work. It is nobody’s fault if one person is accustomed to infrequent showering and does not notice “funk” while another is fastidious and cannot abide the odor of self, let alone another’s.
Even when a person forgets to abide by what one has asked, and instead does what he is accustomed to doing, it is nobody’s fault; it is human nature, and to be expected. Yet how long before recurring forgetfulness begins to feel like disregard? How long before repeated requests begin to sound like nagging?
It is nobody’s fault, so it is certainly not grounds for ending a friendship, though it does indeed seem grounds to terminate an agreement to share living quarters.
And now, the bigger picture.
Immigration is a longer-term and more complex phenomenon than either houseguests or roommates, yet similar dynamics and potential situations still apply. In the best case scenario, nobody may be doing anything actually wrong, legally or morally, but the same incompatibility dilemmas still arise. Those dynamics and situations, and these dilemmas, may indeed be nobody’s fault. Yet when the only options for continuing this arrangement get limited to either continual endurance of inadvertent imposition on the host, or an awkward imposition of reactionary rules to regulate everything about the presence of the guests, including even private matters of personal standards and habits, it is time to end the arrangement.
As a nation, we must stop internalizing the conflict and blaming ourselves for the inevitable reality of incompatibilities. We must cease this collective secular scrupulosity, this self-loathing obsession with tearing ourselves and our history apart in search of that mythical “secret sin” we are sure still lingers ruinously inside and has masterfully eluded our detection thus far. We must put away these microscopes honed to the subatomic level, which exaggerate every indication of our humanity, however infinitesimal, to apocalyptic scope and proportions, and quit accusing ourselves of blindness because it required special equipment, colorized lenses, and distortion filters to make any of it visible in the first place.
As a nation, we are the hosts, this is our home, and it is high time we assert our right of ownership. We need to terminate the current “living arrangements” and rethink our policy of letting anyone and everyone crash on our couch, whether friends or not. However arguably noble our impulse to help, the facts and results speak for themselves. This “help” has pushed our own citizens out of jobs, income and livelihood; out of aid we established to help them in times of illness or hardship; out of desirable options for livable personal space and quality of life in public “shared” space; out of a sense of security, comfort and belonging in their own home—their homeland.
While in the best-case scenario, this may be nobody’s fault, we all know this is far from the best-case scenario. Aside from concerns over drug cartels, criminal gangs, extremist ideologies, and terrorism, the sheer economic and social impacts of an open border lead to numerous irreconcilable incompatibilities on a daily basis. It is abundantly clear that these “living arrangements” have become increasingly intolerable and blatantly unsustainable. Therefore, it is high time we act, and act decisively.