Get your kids the heck outta here. I mean it. Is there any better way to open young minds to global possibilities than to get them out of their regular element?
You can’t miss what you never had, the saying goes. That is until you find yourself surrounded by people who have had what you never had. Having spent much of my youth on the less cosmopolitan streets of New York City, I walked smack into that reality the day I took my first office job.
I have to accept responsibility for this rude awakening. My mother, who had lived for several years in Europe, tried her best to raise my level of consciousness. Unfortunately, she was perceived by many in our circle to be pretentious and haughty. I was already playing down my academic potential. I didn’t need our people lumping me in with her. That would have been bad for my “rep”.
Imagine already living in the gutter and trying to work your way into the sewer. That was me. But as I approached 20, I felt the pull of vague ambitions that I couldn’t reconcile with my need to be accepted around the way. I was walking a fine line. Then, I got a tip about a job in the Financial District.
At 17, I was hired to be a messenger at an international law firm with plush offices in a skyscraper overlooking New York Harbor. Though I lived not 20 miles from my new job, I might as well have been fresh off a Greyhound from Missouri. The better office buildings in Manhattan are architectural marvels. The lobbies of these places can be tourist destinations on their own. I felt privileged to walk through the revolving door to the elevator bank. And once I stepped into an elevator, I realized I had also stepped into another world. I was to experience a culture shock that could level San Francisco.
Once broken in, I became aware of my utter insignificance to the legal staff. This was mildly humiliating, but understandable. I had been comparing the smatterings of conversation I picked up walking through the offices to what I heard in the messenger room. The legal staff were the New England Patriots and we were, at best, high school junior varsity.
The chasm between the legal staff and the messengers was not just a by-product of education, race, salary or job description, it was about the fields of vision inherent to each group. The legal staff had been groomed from childhood to have greater expectations of and for themselves. Many of them had grown up elsewhere, did not necessarily come from money and were graduates of big and/or reputable schools. Doubtless, they spent their late teens doing internships or studying abroad. They were always talking about places they had been and where they planned to go whether for vacation, education or business.
We messengers on the other hand were largely street kids with maybe GEDs, attending public college, high school drop outs or worse, burn-outs just playing out the string. The concept of recreational travel, much less for education or business, was not even a bad joke for most of us. Our conversations typically centered around our neighborhoods, crime, sports, women, sneakers, clubs and, for some, baby mama drama. Lots of laughs, not much thought.
My mother’s attempts to sophisticate me left me uniquely conscious of the vast differences in thinking and vision between the groups. I hated to admit it, but she had been right.
There we were in that messenger room. Our perception: We were slick, street smart city kids who saw school as a distraction, a day trip to Great Adventure as a dream vacation and the well-dressed men and women rustling papers in their offices as brainiac hicks faking our genuine New York funk. Our reality: We were letter jockies hustling for peanuts, most of whom had little to no knowledge of life beyond the subway lines. We were the real hicks because we blithely lived beyond invisible walls of our own construction in a city of 8,000,000 where billions of dollars change hands annually, if not monthly.
Planes, trains and automobiles, people. Get ’em out of here, where ever here might be. Get ’em thinking globally…while their young.