Tuesday, August 13, 2013

For Community’s Sake, Tell Your Kids to Leave Town

Leaving the nest; it's for the best.
This is going to annoy some people; some will be resentful, even angry. For others it might be extremely hurtful. But it needs to be said. For it is a truth; my truth. One I personally believe is universal because it affects all people. Rich and poor; white folks, people of color; Christian, non-Christian; disabled, nondisabled; young, old; smart, dim; liberal, conservative.
              The thing is this: parents should encourage their kids to leave town. Quit the place they grew up. For a time. No joke. It’s important, even vital; especially if they’ve lived the same place all their lives. Encouraging your children to live somewhere else for a while helps them to better appreciate and understand their hometown. It helps provide useful perspective on what’s good (and not so good) about the place they grew up, what’s unique and what’s ultimately the same – especially as it relates to folks who seem different from you.

              I count myself fortunate to have had this experience. I grew up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, before finishing high school in the small city of Battle Creek and then living in East Lansing where I attended Michigan State University (a sizeable ‘town’ in its own right).

              As a kid, I spent a handful of summers on my mom’s sister’s farm in the countryside just outside Youngstown, and every year my parents, sister and I spent a week or so in the mostly rural confines of southern New Jersey, where dad was born and raised.
You'll learn so much.

              After earning my degree, I lived in the Texas city of Houston for a spell and later, smack dab in the midst of things in Los Angeles. Both were sprawling urban affairs. I also did a stint in the desert community of Indian Wells, California. All these places – large, small; hot, cold; fast, slow; progressive, conservative – all of them helped me see my hometown more clearly and relate to the people there in more human ways.

              Vacations can get at this; so can church mission trips, but there’s a trap. First of all it’s short-term; a snapshot. Second, a lot of people who travel to exotic locales stay where they can be around their own kind – places where they can remain within the social security of their familiar cultural bubble. Safe from experiencing other ways of thinking, living and being. It is a sameness that tends to affirm a person’s own way of being as the only right way.

              Yet in the end, doing so does their hometown a disservice. That’s why children need to go; because in order to understand and respect others – really understand and respect them – you must walk among them. In turn, it becomes easier back home to truly value neighbors and not merely tolerate and patronize them.

              It’s easy for some to live in a far (or not so far) off place. For others, less so. Most of us have been conditioned not to readily accept difference. Yeah, we talk a good game, but at best we tolerate it; at worst we ridicule or even persecute it. Because it’s not our way. It’s not what we’re used to. It’s far too alien from our own experience to want to even think about, let alone appreciate. Or understand. Or respect.

              But we’re hurting ourselves. And our neighbors across town. Or next door. That’s because by staying home, you never truly understand what it’s like to not be you or your kind. So for the sake of the community and your children’s cultural growth, encourage them to live for a time in another place. What they bring back might amaze you.


  1. I 100% agree with you, J.R. I lived in a nearby town to go to college, but it wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I really stepped-out of my comfort zone and moved clear across the country.

    It really has given me a new perspective on my hometown. There are things I appreciate so much more about Battle Creek. And, it has given me a fresh perspective on some of the challenges BC faces.

    The other thing that moving away did for me was force me to become comfortable in my own skin and truly define who I was. I moved to Houston and literally knew NO ONE. That meant spending a lot of time alone, which wasn't something I was used to doing. It's made me much more comfortable with me. It also made me really take a look at everything that had become habits in my life, hobbies that I had done, etc. and say "Is that still me? Do I want to continue doing that? Do I want to try something else?" and that has been truly refreshing and maturing.

  2. Thanks for reading, Nicole. Houston was the first place I moved after finishing college, and although there were a few folks there I knew, I was exposed to a variety of cultures I was unfamiliar with back home. I found the experience enriching as much as challenging. jr