There are a lot of great things about life in a small town with a college and most who live here appreciate the benefits of accessible government, services, entertainment, arts and children’s opportunities, among other things.
There are also ways one has to pay for these privileges in a small town. The cost is not steep, but some people don’t bother to pay. Here’s the fee: You have to focus on tact, sensitivity and respect. This is because you have to live cheek-by-jowl with all kinds of people in a small community and your words and actions have far greater repercussions than they do in cities and in “intentional communities,” where people can and do choose to avoid anyone different from themselves.
The election has underscored this for me as I have cringed watching some wonderful people who happen to have “the other” political affiliation endure totally insensitive treatment by obliviously smug members of a dominant social cohort in Farmington. This includes those who simply assume that anyone in the room with them is of the same political mindset, freely letting fly all the current wit about the opposition, along with those who might say something like, “well, you probably won’t be coming to our victory party, but it’s ok, we’ll still love you.”
Do you get it? The recipient of this condescension has no idea how to respond, because to him or her it feels a lot like bullying, but (s)he is too intimidated–and too polite–to point that out!
I cringe partly because I know I could have been the one doing the assuming. It’s usually people “from away,” like me, because those from here were born and bred to this social arrangement. It was only quite recently that I really came to understand that, well actually, the person probably won’t simply think it’s a compliment when you assume (s)he shares your views!
When your kids are in activities together 24/7, and you see people in the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the movies, concerts, the doctor’s office, church, the ski slope– you get it—you need to realize that you are sharing the oxygen with the full spectrum of views, backgrounds, education, intellect, mental conditions, and yes, politics. To negotiate this mine field can take some concentration. I know (from hard experience!) that until you are totally sure you know the person, you can’t and mustn’t assume anything. I guess it’s also called being polite?
This is the price of American small-town life. It’s a pretty good deal, but it only works if everyone pays.