You’re not from around here, are you?

In my travels, I’be been refining my latest hypothesis of small towns: 

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see what’s really going on. 

You know you’ve heard (or maybe said):

  • We tried that once.
  • That’s not how we do things here.
  • That wouldn’t work here because…
  • We can’t because we’re just a … 

Each of those is just a bunch of words standing between the person who said them and reality.

And even when you are doing great things, it’s hard to see how you compare. When I sat down for brainstorming with Norfolk County officials, they wanted to work on improving cooperation. I asked if they were having gun fights, fist fights, or just regular old fights. Shocked, they said no. They just needed to improve their existing cooperation. Until then, they hadn’t realized just how good they are right now. They are still improving, but with a better sense of their relative strength.

Being in a small town is like being inside a glass jar: you can’t read the label of the jar you’re in. You need someone outside to help you see yourself clearly.

When you walk in from the outside, but you’re invested in the town, you can try all kinds of things that otherwise will never happen. Deb Brown did the tour of empty buildings because she’s an outsider. The insiders still thought of empty buildings as something to hide. 

What can you do if you are the insider? Well, here are ways you can seek out an outside perspective. 

  1. Ask an outsider who came to town only recently. 
  2. Find the “recently returned” locals. They may see some things differently now.
  3. Use agencies as outsiders for perspective, but remember that you set the agenda. (Sometimes agencies tend to push their agenda. Resist.) 
  4. Be active online. Connecting with others will give you more of their perspective and a better view of your own town. 

Some insiders still have a “new” or “outside” view. Even though they are from here, they are always looking at things differently. This can be because they travel, read, network or simply stay aware of other places. 

Just don’t become one of the people are stuck on “the way things used to be.” That old jar that no longer exists.


PS –  Want to hear my voice, along with a host of rural friends? I’ve launched an interview series called The Positive View of Rural Podcast. We’re up to six episodes so far, with more to come soon. Want to be interviewed next? Hit reply and say so!