The young woman scanning my groceries looked down quizzically at the corn muffins as she handed them to me to bag.
“They’re great,” I said, “if you like cornbread.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had cornbread,” she said.
I stopped, open-mouthed in surprise. I looked up at the next shoppers in line, who looked like they might have been in shock, too. I felt like we had an Okie emergency on our hands.
“Someone get her some cornbread, STAT!”
She had innocently violated an expectation we have in Oklahoma, that you will have at least tried cornbread, if not been raised on it. The funny part is that I didn’t realize I had this expectation until she broke it.
I think you and I share some expectations like that for behavior, even though we don’t live in the same town. They come from the basic fact that we live in a small population group, that we’re spread out. Whether you are from Dorrigo, New South Wales, Australia, or Port Dover, Ontario, Canada, or El Dorado, Kansas, USA, I think you have these expectations. You even recognize when someone violates them, though you probably can’t list them off. I’m working at listing them, and I’d like your help.
The first one I noticed is interdependence. In rural places, everyone is interconnected and we depend on each other. When I meet you, I’m sure that you and I have some connection, even if it isn’t apparent. You might be cousins with my banker, or we have kids on the same sports team, or we both volunteer for the big festival. I also know that we rely on each other. If I help you on the festival, someone else will help me with my own project later. We’re interdependent.
I think that is why we treat each other with basic politeness in small towns. It’s why we’re friendly. We smile at each other and say a polite good morning even if we don’t know each other. We expect we’re connected somehow.
Urban people grow up with a different ethic based on being in a huge population base, and interdependence isn’t at the center. That’s why city folk don’t smile and acknowledge us, and it helps explain why that feels so wrong to us.
They’ve unknowingly violated the part of our rural ethic that says we can depend on each other. We think, if they won’t even say hello, how can we rely on them if we need them? How will society work if we don’t acknowledge each other?
It’s all a big generalization, but it’s a starting point. I have some other ideas we’ll talk about, like respecting the seasons and cycles, expecting that your work will speak for you, and thinking long term. But I’d like to hear your ideas, too. What do you think is part of the rural ethic we all share? Hit reply and tell me.
Keep shaping the future of your place,
PS – In our survey of rural challenges last year, “Adapting to being open later hours” was small-town business owners’ most-selected challenge. And this year, when we asked webinar customers what topics they most wanted us to tackle, bringing more life downtown was the big winner. That’s why Deb Brown and I are chose Downtown After 5 for our next webinar, live Oct 19, and with the replay on demand Oct 20 – Nov 2. It’s your most-requested topic, so don’t miss out.