Hometown Language

I like to tell myself that I have the gift of gab. I talk too much, too often, and most of the time before my brain even knows what exactly I’m trying to say. For a couple years in college, having my foot in my mouth was my standard attire. My signature accessory, even. This has unsurprisingly caused me problems of varying degrees in the past and I’m sure will absolutely cause me more problems in the future (foresight is 20/20 in this case).

After a couple college-aged loudmouth disasters, I wanted to reduce my self-sabotage to its least destructive level. So I began to take mental notes about the language I used. I attempted to be more mindful of what I said and the effect that it could potentially have on the people around me. How am I being perceived? How could I have said that more clearly? Does what I’m about to say add something to the conversation? Why does that person look like they want to punch me in the face?

And it helped to a degree, but I’ve still got quite a ways to go. I did learn that language is a harnessable tool. It is powerful. And I don’t mean “powerful” in some abstract, far-out way; I mean that language can concretely and qualitatively change things.

Three words coming out of my mouth made me realize all of this:

“I hate Raymond.”

I had said it a million times but for some reason it suddenly felt jarring and unnatural. Did I really hate Raymond? If yes, why did I keep coming back? If no, why did I say I did?

And in a Wayne’s World-esque memory montage I began to play back all of the moments growing up that I heard “You need to get out of here as soon as you can,” or “There’s nothing here for young people,” or “big fish, small pond.”

Of course I internalized the idea that my hometown was a rundown wasteland. I had never heard any different.

Fast forward to 2011 when I was working as an AmeriCorps in South Bend for Teen Advocacy Coalition and I begin to talk about the projects I was working on and the organization’s positive vision for the community. More often than not, I got a blank stare, a scoff, or a very blatant, “What a waste of time.”

Skip ahead five more years and I’m still hearing it. Not two months ago I was enthusiastically talking about my community and what I see for the future. What I heard was, “It’s never going to happen.” Word-for-word, that is what I was told as I spoke optimistically of a bright future for Raymond.

Well, my friends, I am here to tell you that in this instance—you’re right. Whatever the collective believes will happen, will happen; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we want young people to keep leaving, never to return, tell them there is nothing here and there is no potential for growth. Tell them to take their intelligence and their talents to the city. Tell them to run and never look back.

Or you can teach them to invest in their community. Show them the value of their hometown and what they can lend to its success. Show them how much they can effect change in our small town. Introduce them to successful young people who left and came back (there are more around than you think).

There are a lot of us now who are actively engaged, working toward a better future for all of us in the county. There is a lot of inspiration, intelligence, and most importantly there is absolute conviction in the crew leading the way (I’m waiting in the wings somewhere). So support them, even if it’s just with your words. And I will be here, gently but persistently reminding you with mine.

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