Small Town Values in a Big World


I grew up in a small town in northern Ohio and learned my values from my parents. My father worked for Chevrolet his entire life. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who coached girls’ softball. I was the youngest and only girl in my family. I grew up watching the Waltons and Hee Haw and played football with my brothers in the backyard.

My father built the home we grew up in. We went to Grandma’s house every Sunday for family dinner and we shopped at the Five and Dime store downtown. We grew our own vegetables in the lot next to the house. I learned how to farm, repair cars, build furniture, sew, crochet, knit, and maintain the house. My grandparents had a CB radio in the living room that they listened to and would often help truckers on the nearby highway. The CB radio was the way my grandmother got help when she had a heart attack.

Home Town Values

It was the definition of a small town. We embraced our community and it took care of us. While I only lived there for 14 years, I developed lifelong habits and values that have served me well in my career as a speaker and author and in the other 28 places I have lived and called home.

My Grandmother and I in 1965

I was taught that you always open the door for someone; man or woman. Does sex really matter when you are trying to open a door and your hands are full? I was taught that when people speak to you, you look them straight in the eyes; not because you are trying to demonstrate power but because it is a sign of respect to show that you are actively listening to what is being said.

Not Taking Things for Granted

My parents taught me to respect all people — no matter what culture, religion, race, or values — because it was the right thing to do and it spoke volumes about your character. I was taught to get to know your neighbors — to bring food when someone was sick, to take their trash cans in after the truck goes by, to mow their lawn because it was really only a few more feet. My parents taught to pay attention to detail and to take pride in my work. I was taught to be thoughtful about how my life impacts the world around me and to try to make sure that impact is positive.

These skills, values, beliefs are at the core of my identity. It is why I say hello to people I pass on the street and why I learn the name of my server at the restaurant. It is why I talk to the taxi driver and why I talk to people on elevators. I make a conscious choice to interact with the world in a positive way, showing respect to others that I meet every day that are ignored by most. Taking time to tell someone they have made a difference in your life. Not taking anything for granted.

When I travel abroad, instead of visiting all the museums, churches, and historical sites — I choose instead to embrace the culture, spend time with the people who live there, get to know their names, their families as if they were my neighbor. As a sign of respect, I don’t look at my phone while someone is talking to me but instead give everyone my full attention, whether I understand the language or not.

Respect for All Cultures

It is why I respect the countries I visit, and take the time to show that respect to everyone I meet. I figure it is my responsibility to show others that Americans really are respectful and can be humble. I learn the language of the countries I visit to the best of my ability. When I meet people who speak English, I thank them and tell them I wish I had the opportunity to learn their language. And, I learn about the culture before I leave. To me, these things are important because it was the way I was brought up and taught to embrace the world around me.

Recently I went home to that small town for the first time in three decades. The street I grew up on and the home I was raised in are gone. There is a shopping mall there now. My house was moved somewhere else but we couldn’t find it. I cried when I saw my grandmother’s grave for the first time. She passed when I lived in England and I couldn’t make it back home. The five and dime store was gone. I went to my grandmother’s house and visited my old schools. I was hit with a sense of belonging and yet I knew how much I had changed since I left 35 years ago and how much my hometown had changed.

My brother in his Halloween costume with his faithful companion

I have spoken and lived all over the world and have had the most amazing opportunities to interact with people of all cultures, beliefs, races, and religions. Dubai, Israel, Australia, Brazil, England, Sweden, Puerto Rico, Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Japan — these experiences humble me and have enriched my life in ways I cherish. I didn’t just visit. I worked, played, and lived with people and they changed me forever.

Make A Difference

And I hope in some small way, I was able to make a difference wherever I traveled by showing respect for the people, cultures, and beliefs of all. It’s a small town attitude in a big world — seeking to change the world through meaningful, respectful, and thoughtful interactions with everyone you meet. I have hundreds of stories of my adventures and none of them are about beautiful architecture.

It was playing fútbol with children in Brasil and eating Portuguese pizza with my new family and going to a Karaoke bar in Japan and singing Beatles music. It was spending hours at the train station in Utrecht talking about American politics and becoming friends. Belly dancing in Dubai. Irish music and bands in Dublin. Walking the streets of Helsinki completely lost because my phone was dead, and stumbling into the most incredible café where I stayed for hours talking to the owner. Going out to dinner at 9 pm in Tel Aviv with the sales team and dancing until 3 am. Tea and biscuits with my neighbor in Bicester. Spending hours eating dinner with friends and chatting with a restaurant owner in Sydney. Playing on a local softball team in Ohio with students from my KCS class. Attending a Christmas party in Edinburgh with 20 of my closest friends that I had only just met a few hours before.

Respect for All

And all the incredible people that I have met, some for short times, others for days, and some for a lifetime — but each one significant because I took the time to stop and interact and be respectful of the chance to meet them.

You may be wondering why I am writing this. I think most of all it is because after a recent conference I feel compelled to cherish the new people I have met — and the meaningful connections I made, not just shallow hellos and goodbyes. It is as much a letter to myself — to remind me of what I value most and what is important to me. But it is also about saying to all the people I have met and will continue to meet. I want you to know you are significant. And I thank you for sharing your lives with me. I am a better person because of it.