Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Psychology Of Place-bound People

July 19, 2000

What do fourth generation farmers, rural townspeople, tribal people, long-time residents of urban neighborhoods and Third world peasants have in common? They are place-bound people.

I am not a place-bound person. I have been separated from my roots by too many moves. Spurred by our own farm crisis, our family moved from the farm in Fairfield, Montana to Great Falls. Then at age 12 we moved again to the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I have made many moves that have been typically education and career oriented.

However, I am becoming a place-bound person in my comfort and familiarity with the people and geography of the Dakotas where I have lived for the past 25 years. To leave these two states would give me a sense of loss of homeland. This couldn’t be replaced anywhere else. Not at this point in my life. Yet if I chose to or if I had to, I could adapt to new surroundings.

I have grown to know, understand, admire and love the place-bound people I’ve met on the farms and ranches and in the towns and cities of these two states. Though I can never fully be a place-bound person, it is out of respect and admiration for the people here that I have chosen to write about their distinctive way of thinking and being in the world.

The themes, struggles, and connections of place-bound people aren’t important in the lives of mobile careerists and cosmopolitan people for whom there are no ties to be broken. Our national consciousness and our media concern themselves with our headlong rush toward change, discovery, global politics, material well-being, and career specialization. For careerists, spaceship earth is their place and their ability to change places without missing a beat is remarkable.

What is distinctive about place-bound people? It is in sharing a connectedness with the familiar - a cosmic or mystical awareness of sharing one’s being and destiny with one’s surroundings, a sense of responsibility to the past and to the future, and a commitment to share this journey of life in concert with community and family.

Life is a celebration of these relationships. Rituals are enacted. The cycle of life repeats itself through birth and death, summer and winter, sowing and harvesting, young and old - a never-ending succession of patterns and rhythms. One generation replaces the next. Place-bound people accept the interplay between good and the bad, accommodate themselves to the reality they see, and do what is necessary to be in harmony with their environment.

The "place" is alive. It is whole. It has a life of its own. It is the glue that holds things together. To be separated from place is to not belong or be a part of something important. What happens in "the place" is important. It is the stage upon which the drama of life is being played out.

"The place" can be on the land, a hometown, a reservation, or a neighborhood. The fascination with life involves teasing out historical connections, understanding the context of events, and connecting people with people like a pedigree chart where everybody fits. Place-bound people, temporarily away from their surroundings, hunger for details from home to keep abreast of developments.

A matter of roots. Place-bound people often participate in national affairs with great distinction. The offer wisdom in knowing how things fit together, a sense of continuity and history, a restraint against the pell-mell rush toward change, and an awareness of how decisions will affect the lives of ordinary people. They don’t lose track of their roots. Their "place" is still back home where they belong and are truly content.

The world works well when the various forces are brought into harmony and synchrony. People become upset and distressed by conflict and confrontation. Feeling out of step, judged or excluded is painful. Place-bound people often live lives of hidden pain, resentments and anger because they fear the pathway to reconciliation will cause further and perhaps irreparable harm.

Being uprooted. To be removed from place is a disorienting experience. Meanings are lost. One’s importance is diminished. To be separated from place is to lose the vital energy upon which one has come to depend on for nourishment, strength and even life.

A strong percentage of farm families who are forced out of farming stay in their local communities. Why? Because they are place-bound people. To move to an unknown place and not know the history and the people is a drastic uprooting and immersion into another way of being. They don’t know how to act in a place where "place" is not important.

How do they magically transpose themselves into aggressive, self-assertive, demanding "individuals" whose sustenance no longer comes from the living thing called place but from something else? The important "something else" can be religion, occupational identity, personal accomplishment, family ties, leisure activities, or a broad identification with national compatriots.

These things are not foreign to place-bound people but the lack the integration is. Life is more piecemeal. The proportions are no longer prescribed and defined. It is no longer who are "we" but who am "I"?

The psychology and wisdom of place-bound people balance the hard-charging, hard-edged strivings of our society. When I see the warmth and depth of association present at funerals, marriages, and church gatherings of place-bound people, I have an appreciation for that way of life that is fast disappearing from our midst.