Shorts

Boundaries and Limitations

Our topic this week is all about boundaries and limitations.

Anne suggested “Garbage” as a topic, which was received with mixed reactions so the group opted for something a little more generic.

So, what is a limitation, boundary, parameter, restriction or constraint and why are they necessary?

Fences are boundaries. Censorship, laws, guidelines, outlines are all boundaries and limitations. Word-counts, prompt topics, genre and style guides are restrictions in the publishing industry. Picture frames, colour, subject and medium choices in art. Borders, both decorative and political. Social conventions, personal beliefs and prejudices are limitations, but personally, I think ignorance, deliberate ignorance either self-imposed or externally enforced is the greatest limitation of all.

At first glance, we tend to think of limitations as negatives. We all want freedom, autonomy, the opportunity to make our own choices. After all, we are curious creatures. But constraints and boundaries aren’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, they provide us with safety, security and a different kind of freedom.

Any artist knows that often the most creative art comes from imposing restrictions on the project, forcing the creator to come up with something unexpected to make it work. Even our own weekly writing topics are themselves restrictions, boundaries and limitations. We write about that topic and not one of the millions of other possibilities available.

It’s a common concept in the advertising world. If a think tank or creative brainstorming group is stuck on a concept, often the project manager will subtract an option or impose a restriction. This results in more creative ways to look at the problem, because the confusion that results from having too many options has been removed.

There have been taste-tests done in supermarkets and big box stores, in which customers were offered a choice of twenty flavours of ice cream. The next day, the choice was narrowed to six. The result was that the second day’s sales of the product tripled those of the first day, because fewer choices made it easier for customers to make a decision.

We build roads to keep our vehicles from destroying croplands and provide safe and efficient ways to get from place to place. Sure, we could go off-road and still reach our destination, but it would take a lot longer and probably cost more.

 

The fashion industry is rife with boundaries and limitations. It used to be fashionable for women to have an hourglass figure, so boned corsets were invented. Then, it was discovered that women’s butts looked more perky if the ladies wore high heels. Nowadays, young people think it’s cool to wear haircuts with half your head shaved, tattoos on your face and piercings from top to bottom. These are not normal things to do. They are societal constraints imposed by their desire to belong.

We impose boundaries through our laws. It’s legal to do this thing, but it’s not legal to do that thing, and we punish those who transgress.

Limitations feel like negatives when they are imposed without the knowledge, comprehension and informed consent of those being limited. We impose them on our children and pets in order to keep them safe. They don’t understand why they must be constrained, so they fight against them. Similarly, when we feel laws are unjust, we protest, not grasping the reasoning behind them. A classic case is the Ottawa protests against the pandemic mandates.

In most cases, these limitations are “for our own good”, imposed by those who know better the conditions which require them. But all too often these constraints are forcibly imposed through the wants and desires of those in power who want more power than they’re entitled to. It’s these situations which create protests, social and political upheavals, military coups, wars and censorship.

 

People and animals, even plants, cannot and will not be limited when they know that there is no benefit to them. We willingly go along with just laws and restrictions — most of us anyway — but when those laws remove freedoms previously taken for granted, we fight back. A cornered dog will snarl and snap to gain his autonomy and prove his dominance over another. A mother will kill to save her threatened child. Women across the United States protest against the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

And we — well, when we don’t like the prompt of the week, we’ll write on a different topic, like “Garbage”.