Joe grew up in a small town, miles from any big city. He was well liked by both adults and children. The town was the kind of place that never changed much. People went to the local school, learned a local trade as they became old enough, and usually settled down only a few blocks from Main Street. Everyone figured Joe would follow suit because he was such a good kid. “Joe’s going places,” he would hear adults say sometimes. “He’s one to watch.”
However, Joe became determined to go to college. He excelled in school. As he progressed through his teenage years, they continued to have good things to say. Teachers seemed impressed with his intellect and encouraged him to keep studying hard. Eventually, his grades qualified him for admittance to a university on the other end of the state. He even earned a scholarship. People seemed excited for him and congratulated him with big smiles.
Four years later, Joe returned to his home town. He applied for a job in the mayor’s office and was quickly hired. Everyone was glad to see him come back and loved to reminisce about old times. But Joe was looking forward. He suggested changes to how the office ran, bringing to bear some of his university studies and knowledge.
But he ran into resistance.
It was friendly, but it quickly became clear that his coworkers and the mayor herself—who had been in office for something like twenty years—didn’t like the idea of changing how they did things.
He overheard people in the break room saying things like, “Well, you know how he is, with that college degree and all. Don’t worry, he’ll come to his senses. He grew up here, and he’s just like the rest of us.”
Word got around, and Joe heard similar things at the diner on Main Street. People couldn’t seem to accept that he wasn’t just like them. Higher education had broadened his horizons, and he knew the town could benefit from that.
After a while, he had saved enough money that he bought a small house. Now a property owner, Joe soon became aware of practices at the municipal level that weren’t right but that everyone accepted because it had always been that way. He tried to discuss the problems with the mayor and others in the office but was ignored. People continued to downplay his ideas and suggestions.
It went on like this for months. Finally, Joe determined that if he was going to change anything in town, he would have to do it as the mayor. Enough people expressed support that he got a campaign going when the next election approached. But the mayor began treating him coldly as soon as he announced his candidacy. Many of his coworkers followed her lead. She refused to debate him in public but would make attacking remarks about his platform, and later him personally, when she encountered him in the office. And each time he gave speeches, the mood of the crown seemed more and more negative and even frightening.
At his last speech the day before the election, someone yelled, “Joe, stop trying to be extraordinary! You’ll never be anything but a clerk in a small town!” Others cried out in agreement or jeered at Joe.
The next night, heartbroken, Joe learned of the election results. The people of his hometown had rejected him, along with any possibility of making things better. Far from winning graciously, the reelected mayor spoke publicly against him, and sentiment against Joe grew until he worried for his safety. Realizing that the townspeople, they who had once been his friends, could not accept what he had become, Joe sold his house and moved away. Without him, the town remained mired in mediocrity.
Photo by Charles Parker on Pexels.com
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