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Inside Looking Out: Geography is you and me

What has been the single most powerful influence upon the person you have become? One might think our parents had the most to say about who we are today. After all, they tried to mold our character that holds onto their system of values. Yet, parents, both good and otherwise, do not affect how we think, how we behave and how we live our lives as much as where we live.

Doctors will tell us that we are what we eat. That might be true regarding our weight and our health, but the truth be known, we are who we are because of where we have lived and for how long that has been.

Let’s look at who else you might have been. If you were raised and spent the majority of your life somewhere in Alabama, you would not have met the woman or man you married and the children you are raising would have been different kids born to you and somebody else. Your geographical environment molds you from a piece of putty into a person filled with attitudes and interests that are specific to your town or city.

Studies show that you might be quick-tempered if you drive the streets of Philadelphia everyday rather than the empty roadways in Montana where it might take quite a bit of an issue to make anyone get road rage.

Living in San Diego would get you more sunny days and more opportunities for outdoor activities than coping with the long winters of Northeast Pa. You’ll find a men’s softball league in San Diego in which the minimum age is 90 years old. My whiffle ball team that used to play Tuesday mornings in Jim Thorpe has been retired due to failing health of some of our players and much less mobility of others who are now in their late 70s and early to mid 80s. The climate is a powerful influence on our lifestyles.

If you had attended elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, rather than one in Lehighton, do you think you would have been the same kid? Around here, you might have gone to your high school prom with a Joey, a Janey, or Michael or a Sally who went to school with you here or lived in your neighborhood. Live in Anchorage, Alaska, Bangor, Maine or Santa Fe, New Mexico and you would go to the prom with a Jenny, an Arnold, a Samuel or a Tabitha. Your parents, your friends, your education - everything about geography would define you as a completely different person than who you are now.

Research shows that 68 percent of Americans live in or near the city they grew up. A Harvard study states that eight out of 10 young adults either move back to their hometown or they never left. Sixty percent of 26-year-olds live within 10 miles of where they grew up. Reasons they go back home are lower cost of living and to keep ties with friends and family.

This information would disregard the climate as a factor why we decide to live in Northeastern Pa. despite the fact that a year-round warmer climate would likely cause less depression and offer us more vitality to stay active.

And yet we are creatures of habit and the familiarity where we live provides us a comfort zone we are not ready to leave for the unknown.

Not everyone agrees. Shannon L. Alder says, “Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” Benedict Cumberbatch adds, “The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.” Manoj Arora says, “Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome at the end ... because in the end, it shows you a whole new world!!”

I hear of men marrying their childhood sweetheart. A woman’s best friend lives three houses down from her. A young man replaces his diseased father as manager of their family hardware store and I think how wonderful that all is. People find their happiness within the vicinity of their upbringing. Imagine if they had left the hometown to explore a new geography. Would they be better off or not? Only the crystal ball might tell.

We can be pulled by an intuitive force to make a life somewhere far away from where we had spent many years of our life despite the uncertainty of the unknown. Charles F. Glassman writes, “Fear and anxiety many times indicates we are moving in a positive direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone and in the direction of our true purpose.”

When I sat in my seventh-grade geography class bored to tears listening to the teacher talk about the locations of different countries on the globe, I would have been fascinated if he had taught me that where we live defines who we are and if we should move to a new location, then everything we think and everything we feel would be different because of the changes in the people we know and the environmental culture we live within.

I grew up in New Jersey and now I live in Carbon County. I wear a Lehigh University baseball cap. I carry a fishing rod in my vehicle and love to watch baseball games.

If I moved to Texas, I might be wearing a cowboy hat, carrying a shotgun in my truck and looking forward to going to a rodeo this weekend.

Since I’m still in my comfort zone, I think I’ll watch my New York Giants on TV and root against the team that plays in Dallas, Texas.

Here’s another thought. If I had lived on a Caribbean island, I might be mixing a pitcher of pina coladas instead of dipping a tea bag into a mug of hot water.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com