Tales from the US-Canada Border
Maps Strike Again! But for real, some interesting stories.
Hey friends! Today, I’m sharing a recent episode of 99% Invisible that caught my attention. The audio episode is about 50 minutes long and it is a collection of stories reported about the US-Canada Border and all of its eccentricities.
As most of you probably know, I live in South Carolina, far away from international borders. A couple of experiences form my internal concept of what a border looks like: border crossings into Canada in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Upstate New York. Those crossings were relatively straightforward from what I saw: at one moment, I was in the United States, and another, I was in Canada, and I knew it.
This episode shares how the line is much harder to tell in some cases.
I keep coming back to maps because they are such a good metaphor for how we think about knowledge–in most cases, as very black and white–and how knowledge works out on the ground–lots of greys. It’s not that we can’t figure out that some of the greys are closer to black or white; we need to move beyond our snap decisions and do the hard work of thinking about what shade of grey something is.
Maps give us a concrete but pretty low-risk opportunity to practice that kind of thinking in our everyday lives.
If you have time, you can listen to the episode here:
The story of the island off the coast of Maine (or Nova Scotia, depending on your allegiances) whose sovereignty is disputed is most interesting to me. On a map, you can see this island here:
Both the United States and Canada claim this island, and according to reporting here, neither country is very interested in resolving the ambiguity. Resolving the tension here would mean one side or the other has to lose, so by leaving the tension present, both sides can take advantage of the situation (in this case, lots of lobsters).
So what should we think of this?
On the one hand, this is a complex situation to resolve. There are good arguments to be made that both countries have a claim to this piece of land. It’s easier to leave the status quo alone.
On the other hand, the lack of resolution here has caused harm. It would be helpful to know who has a right to this island.
I think we all encounter situations like this, even in our own lives. We feel ambiguities weigh on us and cause us minor but ongoing pain, but it’s never enough pain to motivate us to action. Somewhere, someone could likely help determine the proper course of action here, but for now, it remains unresolved.
So, what’s the action here? How should we proceed? I think there are a few things to consider:
What is the cost of resolving the tension relative to the ongoing pain it’s causing?
What is the cost of not resolving the tension; how much pain will this situation cause in the future?
There’s hard work to be done in answering these questions in most situations. The US and Canada have so far decided the cost of not resolving this border dispute is less than the cost of fixing it. As we consider similar greys in our own lives, we must make the same calculations.
This week, let’s take time to consider some more challenging situations in our lives and perhaps do some of the hard work of bringing them to resolution.
And with that, see you next time.
Notes & Further Reading
If you missed my solid month of writing on maps, I’ll link the posts here: