Local view: Small places can open mindsOpen-mindedness and diversity are not necessarily more prevalent in large cities, nor must those concepts necessarily be absent from small towns.
By: Anna Schield, for the News-Chronicle
“I grew up in the city, with a lot of diversity, so I’m really open-minded. People from small towns are usually closed-minded: they’re stuck in one way of doing things, and they don’t know much else.”
One of my teammates on the cross country running team at Concordia University in St. Paul voiced this assumption while we were running one day this spring. As we crossed Hamline Avenue onto Summit, our feet crunching across patches of leftover snow, I remember thinking that the statement was, ironically, an ignorant generalization.
Throughout the year I’ve spent at school in St. Paul, I repeatedly encountered similar assumptions: less populated areas of the state (especially “up north”) are fantastic for vacations, but growing up in those places just produces naïveté and narrow thinking. But I believe open-mindedness and diversity are not necessarily more prevalent in large cities, nor must those concepts necessarily be absent from small towns.
I read a recent Wall Street Journal article by Ryan Sager called “How Big Cities Can Lead to Small Thoughts.” It summarized some poll results that proved citizens of big cities and students at large universities tend to interact primarily with people who are similar to themselves. Sager explained that, “The bigger the pond, the more likely we are – consciously or not – to swim around until we find a group of like and like-minded people.”
Keeping up with recent trends, comparing oneself to neighbors and the similar habits of city dwellers can lead to the same narrowness of thinking of which small towns are accused. I’ve found that children of the city can be just as comfortable with their particular lifestyles or beliefs as we in small towns can be.
In Two Harbors we tend to do the same, but I’ve also observed that with a more limited selection of people around us we learn to form relationships with others who may seem very different from ourselves. We discover that we may have more in common with them than we thought, and we learn more about each other in the process.
We expand our ideas and ways of thinking as we trade different viewpoints with each other. Relationships become diverse as deer hunters, artists, adventure-seekers, welders, and entrepreneurs become friends in Two Harbors.
Likewise, our area’s smaller schools lead to friendships among students who participate in multiple extracurricular activities. With fewer people around, different interest groups are more likely to interact.
But in this rural area I’ve observed we do tend to think outside the conventional box in certain ways. Rather than keeping abreast of current trends in material possessions, we manage the resources we have and live more simply.
We discover new hobbies, continually creating various forms of entertainment for ourselves. We work hard to pursue opportunities that aren’t immediately at our disposal, driving more miles and stretching our concepts of what is possible.
Young people choose to regularly drive forty minutes – after a full day of school and other extracurricular activities – in order to participate in a youth orchestra. Others form a cooperative sports team with another school, driving hours every week in order to gain experience in a sport that their school could not financially support.
Community members tour each other’s gardens as a social event, the result of a shared hobby. Through Arts on Superior, our community welcomes various musicians to perform weekly in the summer. Residents of Two Harbors and Silver Bay joined with each other to perform in a community theater event.
These and many other recreational activities prove that we in small towns exert effort to pursue unique interests.
Of course, both residents of urban and rural areas can steer clear of applying negative generalizations to each other. More importantly, each can deliberately avoid becoming complacent in ideas and lifestyles. Accepting what is familiar simply because we’ve always done it that way (or because everyone else is doing it) will not help our community thrive. Instead, we should use our minds to think openly, wisely, and creatively.
Meanwhile, we can maintain the values and beliefs that are truly important. In Two Harbors, we can deliberately continue to make our own opportunities, employ creativity, and cultivate original ideas so our community flourishes with the life it truly possesses.