On the fence?

中国日报网 2017-09-15 13:34



On the fence?Reader question:

Please explain “on the fence” in this sentence: This is a place to ask questions, share experiences and offer support to those who are on the fence about having kids.

My comments:

An online forum?

Anyway, this a place where people who are undecided on when they should have a child or whether they should have a child at all can ask questions and seek advice.

Those who are “on the fence” are still “sitting on the fence”, straddling the fence like riding a horse, one leg on each side, meaning, metaphorically speaking they’re not yet able to take sides – on one side of the fence, it’s “Yes, have children”; on the other side of the fence, people say: “No, don’t have kids”.

In the countryside, many farmers separate their houses and courtyard from a neighbor’s property with a fence, a wall-like structure using tree trunks and branches. Suppose this day two neighboring farmers, Farmer John and Farmer Doe get into a shouting match over some dispute or other. Their voices are so loud that villagers from far off are attracted to the scene. To have a better view of what’s going on, you can imagine some young ones may climb up and sit on the fence watching the two neighbors working out their differences.

Sooner or later, as you can imagine, the two quarrelling neighbors will ask the onlookers straddling the fence to judge which one of them is right and which one should offer an apology to the other.

Suppose, then, someone has an idea. Those who support John should get off the fence and stand in Farmer John’s courtyard whereas those who think Farmer Doe is right should jump off the fence and stand in the yard of Doe.

Sure enough, it becomes obvious pretty soon whose courtyard has more people. Doe has 20 supporters whereas there’s only one other person in John’s yard, other than John himself, that is.

Doe wins the argument, of course and that is that.

But wait. There are still three farmers sitting on the fence during all this time, never stepping down.

Needless to say, for one reason or another, these three fence straddlers have refused to take sides. Either they are truly stupid and have no idea who’s right, who’s wrong or they just want to remain neutral, hoping by doing this they can remain friendly to both farmers.

Whatever the case, you get an idea of what it means to be sitting on the fence over an issue or on and about a certain dispute.

To sit on the fence, in short, is to remain neutral or to stay undecided or to be unable to take a side at all.

Or something like that.

Now, let’s read a few more media examples in case you need more contexts to get a firm handle on the age-old, proverbial fence:

1. THE GUILT-STRICKEN confession of an ex-Luftwaffe pilot, the schoolboy memories of an Irish-born British army officer and a pile of 50-year-old intelligence files have conspired to re-open the great mystery of Irish neutrality in the Second World War: why did Germany bomb the “open” city of Dublin on the night of 31 May 1941?

The attack on the North Strand in Dublin killed 34 Irish civilians and wounded 90, prompting apologies from Nazi Germany and claims by the British that de Valera’s neutral Ireland was at last paying the price for “sitting on the fence” during the war against the Third Reich. After the war, Germany paid compensation to the Irish Republic for what it described as a military error, while British intelligence officers suggested that the German aircraft - en route to a target in the United Kingdom - had been deliberately steered towards Dublin by RAF experts who had "bent" the Luftwaffe direction-finding radio beams.

Now an elderly German - living in Canada and calling himself only Heinrich, but insisting he was one of the Luftwaffe pathfinder pilots on the night of the Dublin bombing - has broadcast an appeal for forgiveness over RTE, Irish state radio. He was asked to bomb Belfast, he said, but his two squadrons of 30 aircraft approached Dublin by mistake. “Please forgive me for this mistake which was beyond our control,” Heinrich told reporter Micheal Holmes. “There was no wrongdoing on our side. Everybody was upset, not only the members of the [German] air force, but politically as well.”

- Why the Nazis bombed Dublin, Independent.co.uk, January 24, 1999.

2. During the Revolutionary War, a prominent New Jersey jurist, Judge Imlay, hadn’t yet committed to either the revolutionaries or the loyalists.

So when Washington encountered one of Imlay’s slaves he asked him which way the judge was leaning.

Washington was so amused by the response that he retold it enough times for it to become part of our language.

He said, “Until my master knows which is the strongest group, he’s staying on the fence.”

- How Did the Expression “Sitting On the Fence” For Someone Indecisive Originate and What Does the Idiom Mean? SuperBeefy.com, July 11, 2014.

3. Walking down the shoulder of Highway 70 when he was 17, Mark Stoner was struck by a car, knocked unconscious, dragged to the side of the road and left in the weeds.

His left side was essentially crushed and the person who struck him sped off into the night. After he awoke tattered and broken on the side of the road, he crawled to a pay phone at a Hertel Papa Johns to call for help.

Before that night, Stoner was a lettered, state-competing, college-bound athlete in both track and football.

Only four months remained in his high school career but due to the intense recovery conditions, Stoner was unable to attend school and, thus, his graduation date was postponed and dreams of becoming a college athlete were gone.

Many would see this as the pinnacle of tragic events in a young person’s life; however, that situation was the tipping point, one piece to an ugly puzzle.

“I grew up on the rez (reservation). I grew up fighting with kids on the rez because I looked white. In school, I was fighting with kids because I was Native,” said Stoner.

Stoner is the son of a mixed marriage, with a white father and Native American mother. His father lived in Cumberland, Wis. “The only time I ever got to leave the rez when I was a kid, I would go with my dad on weekends to his house. Until he was shot and killed when I was 11 years old.

“That was another massive disappointment in my life. After that, I was stuck on the rez. Well, then I got into sports and things started looking good.”

Stoner is the first to admit that his younger years — even before the accident — were occupied by many criminal activities, mainly theft and off and on interaction with gangs in the Twin Cities. But, with the passing of his father and being caught in two race narratives, he continually asked himself, Who am I?

For a time, Stoner seemed to be holding on to a life of normality through high school and his love for sports. But, on the night of the hit-and-run his life altered and fell over the fence onto a darker pasture.

The drug abuse began with prescribed painkillers and easy access to other drugs through social circles; all of this escalated to drugs such as crack-cocaine and eventually, meth.

In 1988, Stoner began his long journey with the drug that plagues many areas of this country, especially Northern Wisconsin. Stoner was introduced to hard drugs through gang affiliations in the Midwest and California. He began ‘snorting glass’ until 2004 when he discovered the instant rush provided by smoking meth. He then smoked the drug steadily until 2013.

Addiction slowly grows and molds a person’s personality to that of a dependent—a being whose existence revolves around indulgence into an alternate reality, one which is nearabout inescapable.

And, as it is on many occasions, addiction weds itself to criminal activity which, in-turn, flips morals and turns the code 180 degrees taking the dependent on a blacked-out journey delineated of sensibility.

For 28 years, Stoner led the life of a user and didn’t look back. “I was in that lifestyle. I just kept doing it,” he said.


Stoner began to think harder about the effects drugs and criminal activity can have on a person. He knew he wanted to change but had not completely stepped out of his old life. Once he was back at home, he remained close with user friends. He would sit with them, chop lines, pass the bubble, but never indulge himself. “I felt okay. I wasn’t using.”

Then, he realized something.

It’s what I call being on the fence of good and bad. I was on the bad side. And, when looking at my family life, even though I knew they loved me, I know they were thinking— when are you going to mess up?”

He was back in drug court when, six months in, he decided he was going to get off the fence and back on the good side.

“I chose not to hang around those friends anymore. I chose to not be around the drugs. Then, my life started to change for the better.”

Stoner took a job at a deli in Hertel. He worked long hours for little pay in order to support his family and keep himself away from the temptation of drugs. Within six months, he was shaking the hand of Judge Kenneth Kutz and accepting his diploma from drug court.

“I looked around at my family, my kids, and thought—this is what I’ve missed for the past 28 years: being part of a family.”

- ‘Is my life worth living?’BurnettCountySentinel.com, May 18, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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