I read a Wall Street Journal article recently by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels recapping his commencement speech to the recent graduating class that I thought was excellent. In the speech, he pointed out that the graduates were part of a privileged elite, a nouveau aristocracy. He went on to say that it was not based upon wealth or class (witness the last royal wedding – my invitation got lost, how about you?); but, instead it was based upon joining a cluster group he spotlighted: Purdue graduates.
I thought he was going to extoll the virtues of Purdue, recommend that the graduates stay in touch with each other. Instead, he surprised me and said just the opposite. In fact, he noted the urge to resist the movement toward tribalism, and he defined that as the unintentional segregation of Purdue grads versus everyone else. He further extended the analogy to the rest of us who tend to stick to our own kind. He pointed out how dangerous that can be to a democracy and to our freedom.
My Italian grandparents shared an experience not unlike other immigrants that came to these shores. They came with others from their village, country, continent; and they all moved to the same place and they interacted with each other, only mixing when their children ventured out into another neighborhood and perhaps married someone from another tribe.
My grandparents came here over one hundred years ago. My dad still lives in the same place he was born, but everything around him has changed. In fact, all the new people who moved into the neighborhood call people like my dad and others that were born there and still live there: the Leftovers! As I drove around the neighborhood recently, I realized how hard it was to simply park a car. There is no place to park anymore because all the one- and two-family homes have been replaced with multi-dwelling units; and everyone has a car. It’s crazy!
Which brings me to this slice of heaven. With parking rules in effect, it is harder than ever to park, but only slightly doable. Every available lot has not been filled in with condos, yet. With the exception of those really hot days when the peninsula bulges to accommodate New York’s hot and sweaty, we mostly strike a “them” versus “us” pose, and stick to our tribal roots. You know the terms, Down for the Day (DFDs) and other type descriptors, separate us from invaders. But really, we are hot and sweaty too, we just happen to live here during the really cold winter months.
I remember when we were adding technology to the floor of the NYSE at a very fast pace to keep in line with federal rules. Because the changes were being forced on the traders and the Exchange, the members had no choice. There was a point in time when the traders finally got the technology tools to help them stay relevant and compete. And it was at that time they all asked, “can’t we stop and stay right here now?” We had hit a “sweet spot” and we all knew it; the exact right mix of human interaction and technological tools. Unfortunately, the Feds had other ideas and that period only lasted for a short time.
I hope we never get to the point where the “them” outnumber the “we” and rather than us calling them DFDs, they call us the “Leftovers!” Somehow, I think we ourselves are close to being in that “sweet spot” and I hope it goes on forever, and that all our tribes get along peacefully, both here and in the world. Happy summer folks!