Remember, You’re a _______________: Roots and Identity

Growing up, on occasion Sib and I would hear, “You’re from the South. Act like it.” The implication was always that we had failed to meet a certain standard of behavior, usually courtesy or treating people certain ways. Now, keep in mind, we were not living in the area generally considered the US South. The part of Texas where we lived is far more western than southern, or even midwestern. But Mom and Dad Red grew up in the older Southern culture, especially Dad Red, and certain things were hammered into us.

I was reminded of this a little while ago, while musing on the chaotic swirlings of memory, identity, manners, and European nationalism. What does it mean to be a _____________? A sense of place and history, of shared values and faith, shared traditional foes (Russia, the English, Auburn or LSU . . . ), an understanding of how things are to be done and people are to be treated? What if you never had that, and you must form a sense of place-ful-ness over and over?

Younger people today in many cases in the US don’t have the same “rootedness” that their grandparents might have had. Common cultural values have changed, or been rejected, or were never established in the first place. Some will say that this is good, because some old cultural practices needed to go. I can’t argue with that, because they are right. However, love it or hate it, being from a place or culture gives a foundation and touchstone for behavior and belief, even if those are rejected later. Deep down, you always have something to fall back on. “What would MeMaw do?” “What would Mr. Jackson up the road have done?” Family traditions, ways of relating to people and the world, they give a platform and stepping off point.

I suspect a lot of the desperate flailing for acceptance, and for some culture and standards of some kind, comes from the lack of that foundation. What does it mean to be a young person in a world where everything is filtered, influencers do not exist save on a screen, and standards of proper conduct, appearance, and belief change monthly if not faster? I think we all know, and are seeing that playing out far too clearly. Without a foundation, people drift and get caught up in things that do not always lead to good ends. Without roots and a sense of time and place, everything is now, and all changes are signs of doom and the End. No wonder things like end-times environmental beliefs have appeared and become so visible in western culture.

For a while, to be a “person from nowhere,” a true cosmopolitan without a set home or culture was lauded as the grand ideal. The person “from Europe,” or “from the cities [London and New York]” could be happy and contribute to society in any big city of the world. No difference existed between Tokyo and Mumbai and London and LA. Early on these were the “jet set,” then “the cosmopolitan class” as I heard a geographer refer to them. That might work for a few, but not for most of humanity. Roots are needed. Humans are not creatures of the air, literally or metaphorically. Without a foundation of behavior and culture, we have nothing when the storms come.

“You’re from [place/culture]. Act like it.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Was sagen die Nachbaren?” “Don’t outgrow your raisin’.” There’s a foundation in all of those ideas. Roots.


16 thoughts on “Remember, You’re a _______________: Roots and Identity

  1. The term “rootless cosmopolitans” seems applicable… unfortunately, that seems to have been historically a slur against Jews (who, historically, weren’t exactly rootless by choice; pogroms and such may have had something to do with it).
    Today’s rootless-by-choice cosmopolitans not only have no geographic roots, but largely seem to lack any roots in history, moral philosophy, ever having had any sort of real job, and so on – and they’ve anointed themselves global overlords, supremely qualified to micromanage the lives of people they don’t even remotely understand, decree use of technologies that exist only in marketing pitches, etc.

    • Historically, the Jews were homeless, but not rootless – they were foreign everywhere they went, but they had their own law and culture to fall back on. In fact they were ferocious about preserving that culture, just because they were a small minority everywhere. They never were “citizens of the world” and never wanted to be.

      The modern cosmopolitan denies that he has, or needs, any permanent connection to anything outside himself – and stereotypes all those not in his condition, reducing them to mere instances of some collective. He thereby manages to combine the mistakes of libertarian and socialist politics: a remarkable feat of mental contortion.

  2. My upbringing was Southern.
    Treat others with respect..”Yes, Ma’am. No, Sir.” An elderly neighbor couple wanted us kids to call them by their first names. I couldn’t do it.
    Your word is your bond.
    The Golden Rule.
    Never blow your own trumpet.
    Be a good loser (and winner!).
    To this day it makes me uncomfortable to step outside of these life rules. It also makes me uncomfortable when others break these rules.

    • Family hack:
      Add a “Miss” or “Mister” to the name.

      Then the kids are addressing said neighbor by first name.

      ….and also identifying them as Respected.

  3. Then there’s the garbage thrown at people trying to escape a hellish sub-culture by people still trapped in that hellish sub-culture. 😡

    Don’t mind me, I’m fighting a bad mood and don’t have enough coffee. 😦

  4. Lack of roots is a recurring theme in my work as you can see here: I can identify with Richard Henry Dana who visited San Francisco Bay in 1824 when the peninsula was inhabited by a single cabin and returned 24 years later to find a city of 100 thousand.

    California is a strange place. I think part of our problem is that after viewing the wholesale transformation of California that took place when CA went from 10 million inhabitants in 1950 to 24 million in 1980, many long-time residents are trying to freeze in place the California they grew up in even though it was gone before they reached adulthood. I doubt that anyone who didn’t live through it can imagine what that transformation was like. These people don’t quite have the courage and arrogance of a Mao, so they try to stand against change and yell stop. They think if we allow people to build the houses they actually need, it will be a repeat of the destruction of their childhood. Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs has deep resonance for me:

    Here is a key to a house faraway
    where I used to live as a child.
    They tore down the building
    when I moved away
    and left the key unreconciled.

    As does Joe South’s Don’t it Make You Want to Go Home

  5. We haz comments again?

    (So I can share annoyance about classifying voices as bright or warm, and then trying to apply it to Alison Krauss? Who somehow sounds warm despite almost no vibrato. Until she goes full falsetto, then she sounds bright. For one single note.)

  6. Michael and Lourain both beat me to what ‘I’ was going to say. And yes, raised ‘Southern’…

  7. Yes, roots are needed. Roots are how we know we’re part of a Tribe. A human being without a Tribe is a sad and sorry thing.

    • More than that. Without history, there is no identity. Without identity to guide a society, it has no guide by which to make choices, and thus no future.

      Whataver you think of Philip Bobbitt’s =The Shield of Achilles=, he makes a strong case for this thesis.

  8. Someone at an aviation magazine observed that ‘If you do anything with your airplane that is not consistent with the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, then you are a test pilot.”

    In a society, the POH consists of customs, implicit expectations of behavior, common historical and literary reference points, as well as the formal laws.

    Some people like being test pilots of society…some *think* they will like it, and find out that role is not what they thought. But a lot of people become lost and disoriented when they are forced to become test pilots without choosing to be.

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