Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Generation to Generation

Last week at council, for the first time, the Youth Board was represented by a youth. And he did well. More than once I wanted to jump in, to introduce, to adjust expectations, to make him more comfortable but as the meeting progressed, I realized something. He was more comfortable there than I was. Everybody already knew who he was, who his folks were, and more or less his life story.

The familiarity of community can be a two-edged sword. It can create understanding and context, or it can create labels. My greatest fear, coming here, was that this would be a labeling kind of community. A community where the class clown keeps joking until one day he blows his brains out - worn out from being a caricature of the person he really is. A community where someone grows up to run for mayor and gets defeated because 30 years ago she cost the home team the game by turning in the quarterback for smoking. Or where some well-meaning business owner won't hire someone because the kid's dad embezzled money from the co-op 20 years ago.

Blessedly, this doesn't seem to be the case here. It seems that it is more in the creating context mode. I have learned some personal history here but only what I need to do my job. Much of it I have had to ask for because I have clues, but no facts. People are reticent to share anyone else's story. They really don't even share their own stories unless you ask. That's partly ethnic: say as little as possible in as few words as possible is the creed of all good Norwegians. Still, having been in communities where gossip was the chief form of entertainment, this creating context transmission of information is welcome!

The one place where people will share stories and history freely is in talking about their homes. People know who lived in their homes before them, where they worked, where they moved to, and what architectural features are specific to which former residents. I don't know the significance of this community characteristic but it plays out in funny ways. Often people will answer, if asked where they live, "in the Baxter house" or "across the street from where so-and-so used to live". This is not helpful to newcomers, but eventually these will become familiar as well.

The boy in the first paragraph? I know his dad, his grandmothers, his sister, his step-mom, some of his cousins,and his girlfriend! (Only I didn't know she was his girlfriend. . . but I know who her best friend is because they went to a youth event together recently. . . and she lives over in the Smith's old house.) OK - truthfully, I have no idea where she lives, but it's approximately 1100 miles north of Austin, TX.