Iconic Standoff

Iconic Standoff
HealthCare Workers Stand

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exit or Voice

"Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit - stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice - complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed."

"Americans have always preferred 'the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.'"
- From Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) as quoted in The New Yorker, November 13, 2017. "Our Town" by Larissa MacFarquhar.  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/13/where-the-small-town-american-dream-lives-on)

I nearly recoiled when I read about the neatness of exit and how it is unlikely to result in a solution to any problem. My life has been defined to some degree by neatness of exit. When I was between the ages of six and eighteen my family moved six times. We became the masters of exit, of leaving before deep roots planted, before long-term friendships became problematic, before the house developed roof, plumbing, or driveway issues (with the exception of the house in Medfield, which distressingly developed all three before we could escape). Even our cars were lease vehicles. My father worked for Nissan Motor Corp, so we received a new car when we received a new neighborhood, never concerning ourselves with new power trains, fan belts, or long-term warranties.

Moving brought its own difficulties and traumas, but our exit-oriented lives left me in some ways unprepared to deal with the thirty-five year old house I now live in, or the battered van with 120,000 miles that I now drive. All of my siblings have likewise settled in a place where they now have homes and cars and ties that bind. Now we have to use voice to solve problems, wrestle with friendships and roofs and fan belts that weather over time.

It's been an adjustment to plant my feet and stay. My first instinct is flight, and I probably would have left any number of troubling situations over the past six years if it would not have been detrimental to my children, my valued friendships, my relationship to this place. American history has always valued movement - to the frontier, to the cities, to the new places, and perhaps slightly less glamorized the work of staying home. As we all wrestle with troubling divisions and large-scale problems that our country faces, we could use a reminder that only our persistent use of voice and our determination to stay can really solve them.

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