Sarah Skwire of the Foundation for Economic Education responded Thursday to my blogpost on the importance of staying put:

I don’t like Olmstead’s argument. Worried by a recent poll about the American tendency to relocate, she urges her readers to stay where they are and to bloom where they’re planted. … Stay put. Don’t change. How much better can it be anywhere else?

Reading Olmstead’s article made me think instantly of F.A. Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” In it, he points out that “one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such.” I have rarely seen a more thoroughgoing example of this kind of timidity than in Olmstead’s piece.

Stay where you are because it is where you are. If you leave in order to pursue economic opportunity, a wider range of social networks, a more appealing set of choices in restaurants and stores, or maybe just the chance to stay on the 29th floor of the Sofitel, you are betraying yourself.

I can understand Skwire’s critiques, and should perhaps add a caveat to my earlier post: not everyone always can or should “stay put” (especially if you’re defining this, as Skwire seems to be, as “staying put” in the place you grew up in, and never venturing into the outside world). Particular circumstances and people are important to take into account.

However, what I was hoping to point out—and what I think is important to understand—is that there has been a troubling migratory pattern in American life over the past several decades, and it’s beginning to take a toll on many communities. The goal of my post was to point out that we are, on the whole, too eager to move from place to place in modern America. Some people moving is not a problem: but a large percentage of people moving from place to place, not getting established in a community, does indeed become an issue. An interesting story in the Washington Post highlighted this trend Friday, and noted that some people are “going home” in order to hopefully “revive ailing towns and find a way forward for rural America”:

Nationally and globally, cities dominate. Four out of five Americans inhabit urban areas on a fraction of this country’s land, while rural residents continue to decline as a percentage of the population. As one America shrinks, the other overflows; both are searching for solutions.

As one mayor tells reporter Libby Sander, simply yet truthfully, “We need people.”

In my original post, I wrote, “We will never live in the city or town of our dreams. The grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence.” Skwire seems to think this only references the siren call of the city, its attractive urban setting. But in reality, I was speaking of a more general restlessness that often stirs in our souls. It doesn’t matter where we live, or where we move: there will always be a temptation to discontentment. Right now, I don’t live in my native land of Idaho, and I miss it. It is very easy to see all the flaws and weaknesses of living in one place, when you’re longing for another. But I believe that, since moving to Idaho (or anywhere else) is not possible for me right now, I should be invest myself as deeply in this community as I possibly can. Even if I did move back to Idaho, it wouldn’t be perfect: I would probably miss this place, the comforts and communities it brings. But we should care for our corner of the world, wherever it is: using our gifts and resources to build a better street, a better neighborhood, a better town or city.

Another interest argument that Skwire makes is that “humans have always relocated in order to better their economic position or to find freedom or for countless other reasons … Since when have conservatives tried to discourage others from taking responsibility for improving their own lives?”

I definitely would not discourage people from “taking responsibility for improving their lives.” By no means. Of course, some situations (violation of human rights, for instance) are horrific, and require relocation. All I would ask is that we consider whether moving is always necessary for improvement, or whether we can—in fact—make improvements and foster growth where we’re at. The importance of this is, of course, that if we only ever move, we may actually lose certain opportunities to grow and improve on an internal and local level. Although “seeking a better life” someplace far away is not always a bad idea, I think we too often assume that far-off places will be idyllic, exciting, full of promise—because we don’t know them, their weaknesses and hardships.

We will never find a perfect “place” or “home” in this life—because every place is flawed. But I do believe that—whether you’ve moved once, 12 times, or never—you can make your current habitation, your town or city, a home. You can love it, cherish it, invest in it. And that is what matters most.