I recently wrote an essay titled An Unreasonable Couple that describes my brave parents, Clara and John Schmidt. They left their small Mennonite community in rural Kansas in the early 1940s and traveled to Paraguay to provide medical services in an area largely considered inhabitable.
They were devout Christians, following God’s calling. They were also crazy venturesome thrill seekers.
One of my dearest cousins from my mother’s Regier side of the family, who was born, raised and still lives in that Kansas rural community, sent me a thought-provoking email after reading my essay. She wrote:
“We have a saying in our family, “Oh, they’re Schmidts. They can do it,” with “it” being anything that looks far too dangerous, far too adventuresome, and probably a bit crazy…and stuff that our Regier clan would never try. Your Schmidt family has always seemed to be fearless! We’ll have to have a talk about the merits of tenacity and the strengths of rootedness (which seems to run deep in our clan).”
What a great topic for conversation!
In Richard Florida’s book Who’s Your City?, he categorized people into three groups: the mobile, the stuck and the rooted. According to him, the mobile pick up rather easily and move to new opportunities, the stuck lack the resources to leave where they are, and the rooted have the means and the opportunity to move, but choose to stay rooted in their community.
My Regier Kansas family is not stuck. They could have left any time, but they’re content where they are. The ties they have within their community are for them worth foregoing many of the opportunities that may call to them. The merits of those deep ties seem obvious to me and probably to you too.
But what about the so-called “merits” of crazy adventure? The thrill of moving and seeking out new adventures has always been central to the American experience. In the 1980s, Frank Farley, a professor of educational psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, coined the term Type T personality to describe thrill-seekers, those of us who crave variety, novelty, intensity and risk.
“It’s the excitement,” he said. “It makes things interesting, keeps you going. As Helen Keller once said, ‘Life is a daring adventure, or it is nothing.'”
I just counted that I’ve moved 51 times in the 66 years of my life.
Deeply rooted seems to be gaining ground over thrill seeking. According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of Americans who move each year fell from more than 20 percent during the 1950s and 60s to just 11.2 percent in 2016, the lowest level since such statistics have been collected. The main reasons why stayers stay, according to the analysis, revolve around social relationships.
How do the tradeoffs between deeply rooted social ties and the excitement of moving into new worlds look to you?