In the familiar saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt”, we often think of the emotional reaction of scorn and denigration, but familiarity can take the significance and value out of life itself.
When I was a child, I would have given my right arm to have a ‘communicator’ like Captain Kirk’s or to see and hear at the same time or to have the vast information at my fingertips that we have on the Internet. I valued the experience of possessing such wonders and made it part of my aspirations and dreams. Today, we use cell phones and the Internet as every day events. The wonder of them and the amazing fact they exist has now been replaced by the drudgery of repetitive use, as if we always had these things.
It is no one’s to blame, it’s called living and if we forget what wonders we possess; we can easily boil down to complaining and whining. These technological wonders are now objects that we can, “throw away”.
In the same way, Liberty and the due process of law are old hat to us. We treat the Bill of Rights as if everyone in the world has such protections. We just assume that freedom is our daily companion and that voting is an optional concept. Politics is a distant affair and we don’t even realize that having elected officials is a wonder onto itself. As many as 66% of us won’t bother voting and many don’t even know who is in office or even what they are doing! What an Afghani would risk his very life for is a minor inconvenience. We end up trashing what to many has more value than gold or platinum.
The same holds true to our historic City. What makes a tourist gasp makes us shrug. We see the architectural beauty and the essence of history in our community and we say, “So?” as if every community has such wonders. When a self-centered homeowner wants to trash his house, the neighbors just shrug and say, “We’re a beautiful community, he can do what he wants! It won’t affect the rest of us.” When developers come in and propose marring our downtown, we say, “Hey, he’s bringing in some money, leave him alone!” They do not value our historic assets, it’s just some old stuff!
That is why I dig into our history so we can value it. We have developers and homeowners who say, “Sure, Salem is an historic community. Portsmouth is an historic City. They’re worth saving, but Newburyport? It just ‘thinks’ it’s historic. Our citizens are where it’s important. That old stuff needs to be swept away. It has no value!”
Familiarity takes priceless treasures and makes them cheap.
Newburyport is more than a tourist site. It is the birthplace of the Coast Guard, the birthplace of the true Clipper Ship. Our City held sway at the birth of our nation financing and bringing forth leaders who created the idea of “checks and balances” in our Constitution, and conceived & lobbied hard for the Bill of Rights. Our historic streets spawned leaders who shaped our very nation and many “firsts” afterward have been created here.
Even today, Newburyport regionally and nationally is raising quite a few eyebrows. We who live here need to fight the urge to cheapen our significance and to realize that we must treasure our architectural and historical assets.