Have you noticed that barriers are everywhere?  Barriers to economic growth, language barriers, barriers to promotion, barriers to learning, class barriers, gender barriers, barriers to social mobility, cultural barriers, barriers to progress.  Damn it, we are hemmed in by barriers.  They stretch into the distance as far as the eye can see. 

Barriers don’t happen by accident; their whole purpose in life is to make things difficult; to prevent movement or access.  Of course, some barriers are welcome – like the ones down the centre of motorways or the ones on Clifton Suspension Bridge that have cut suicidal jumps by half.  But most of the barriers we hear about aren’t physical things.  They are negative ways of thinking that we could do without. They stop people in their tracks, get used as excuses to do nothing and are generally unhelpful.

You could argue that I’m being unduly defeatist.  Surely, barriers are supposed to spur us into ‘can do’ action, to function as challenges to be overcome not as insurmountable problems?  But that’s my point; barriers have an uncanny knack of bringing out the half-empty in me.  Frankly, they make me want to give up.

So, what’s the alternative?  Why, obstacles of course!  These are delightfully tantalising things.  They don’t prevent progress; they merely hinder it in an intriguing way. Think of an obstacle course with fences, pits, tunnels and nets all clamouring to be successfully negotiated.  Obstacles actually want to be overcome and, far from sapping my enthusiasm, they motivate me to have a go.  Faced with obstacles, I’m back to being my half-full self, determined to find a way.

So, let’s banish talk of barriers and stick to obstacles.  I have just read an article about a clever robot that depends on obstacles for propulsion – apparently it pushes off them in order to move forwards.  That’s exactly what obstacles are for; splendid aids to moving forwards.

No more barriers – please!

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