Searching for a better focus on Virginia

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Print this page by Robert Powell

When I was growing up in Georgia, the church that my family attended provided an apartment for foreign missionaries who were on leave. I got to know many of the children of these missionaries and through them learned the meaning of “culture shock.”

These kids weren’t jolted by the culture they had found living in Nigeria or Indonesia, Instead, they were taken aback by changes in American culture that had taken place since they left the United States. Their concept of life in the U.S. was like a family snapshot, a picture frozen in time that they carried with them in their life abroad.

We often don’t realize it, but many things change quickly in our country. Buildings are thrown up and torn down. Political winds shift. Tastes in fashion and music can turn on a dime. Many people who return to the U.S. after being away for only few years sometimes feel like they are adjusting to a foreign land.

But you don’t have to leave the country to have your long-held perceptions about your home state challenged. Virginia, for example, went from being a reliably “red” state to a “blue” state in the 2008 election. Now, only a year later, Republicans have a staged a dramatic comeback, sweeping the top three statewide offices in a landslide victory.  Is Virginia red, blue or purple? The pundits are still scratching their heads.

Meanwhile, Republican Bob McDonnell will become the third governor in a row, (and the fourth of the last five governors) who is not a Virginia native. At one time, that might be a cause for concern in a state that is notoriously proud of its native sons. But the trend illustrates how many people have moved to this state (many times from foreign lands) and have become welcome participants in its affairs.

Change in Virginia is so swift that people living in one region have difficulty keeping up with what is happening in another area. At a banquet last weekend, for example, members of the 2009 class of LEAD Virginia talked about how much they had learned and their previously held views had changed since April.

LEAD Virginia is a statewide leadership development program, In the past eight months, its participants have looked at historic preservation in Richmond, discussed uranium mining in Southern Virginia, eaten lunch on a Navy ship in Hampton Roads and attended a play at the Barter Theatre in Southwest Virginia. In their travels, they have come to realize why the Port of Virginia is important to the Shenandoah Valley and why traffic congestion in Northern Virginia could affect the economy of the entire state.

They understand that the true picture of Virginia is an ever-changing video not a snapshot. That is a viewpoint that more of us need to adopt to avoid culture shock.

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