Suburbs and urbs

My son belongs to a music group that functions in a large urban area, but has suburban satellites. My son trains with one of those satellites. In the days leading up to performances, all of the satellite groups descend on the urban center for final rehearsals. I got to audit one of those rehearsals the other day and was struck by the differences in boys.

There are many similarities of course. When you gather 50 boys between the ages of 6 and 10 in one room, you're going to have the itchiest, twitchiest, wiggliest group of people you've ever seen or even imagined. The secret to perpetual motion was hidden in that room.

What was different amongst the groups of boys from different geographical regions, though, was attitude. Without exception, the little suburban boys were respectful. Their bodies may have been wiggling, but their attention was on the teacher. Most of the urban boys were also respectful, although with a little more of an edge. However, there was something in that room that I haven't seen in the suburbs: out and out disrespect. A handful of those ten and under kids had already completely internalized urban attitude. They were "cool" — and cool means rude. I was shocked.

Now, it would be easy to say that I'm looking at just a small group of 50 boys total, and shouldn't reach general conclusions. Likewise, the fact that most of the urban boys were good, and that they constitute a much larger group of boys than my little suburban cadre, means that the majority of boys are going to be good. My small group is therefore statistically anomalous.

All of these excuses for that disrespectful behavior are possible if one ignores the fact that I'm used to interacting with huge groups of suburban boys — at soccer, at baseball, at school, at parties, in the neighborhood, etc. No matter how large the group, I've never seen "attitude" amongst these boys. Some are naughtier, some are more active, some a little sullen, but none think that they're so cool that they can treat adults with blatant disrespect.

This difference in communities is especially interesting given that the parents in my community are all good, card-carrying liberals, and they tend to be non-disciplinarian parents (spanking is not a parenting option in my community and can, for the unlucky parent, lead to a visit from Child Protective Services). The parents are not united by religious, political or social conservatism. Yet, somehow, they've managed to raise their children with a small town ethos that includes respect and honor. Perhaps there is something about living in a community that looks like a setting for Beaver Cleaver or the Brady kids that leads inexorably to parenting expectations that mirror those imposed on these fictional characters.

Your comments and observations on this would be very welcome.

Image from Brad Silverman.

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  • Earl

    I’m beyond the age where I spend time with flocks of boys these days. I know what you mean though…..the same kind of thing is detectable in the college students I teach.

    The unfortunate thing is that one almost never sees the open, happy, respectful attitudes “rub off on” the sullen, angry, “cool” guys…..even when they are seriously outnumbered, it always seems to go the other way. Some guys are true to themselves and stand tall, but generally a larger number begins to ape “the attitude”, to a greater or lesser degree.

    Pretty sad.

  • Ymarsakar

    The big cities internalize small sub-sects of social cliques. Small towns can’t do that, because, they’re too small to subsect into this or that other whatever “elite enclave”.

    you should see the disrespect and outright violence the Dutch get from Muslim teenagers. Crazy stuff. But their problem doesn’t have to do with cities, but cultural subsects.

    It’s a lot easier for bad influences to hide out in big cities and metastasize. In homogenous communities, there is more capacity to absorb change, because it just subsumes any radicalized element early on. In big cities, it tends to start like a free for all fight if you try to get one to be like another. Sorta like the Arab proverb. me against my brother. Me and my brother against my cousin. Me and my brother with my cousin against the foreign invader.

    One big tribal culture. The more people there are, the greater the entropy, and thus the greater the chance for variations and mutations to occur contrary to the “Natural Order”.

    It’s sorta like how direct democracy breaks down after you get past the city-state. Too many people and too many factions arguing over too many things, to do anything constructive.