When I was a kid growing up in Petal, Mississippi, I dreamed of leaving my hometown and moving to the big city. All that dreaming eventually led me to Washington, D.C., but in the years since I’ve been away, my fondness for small town living has grown as I’ve realized it actually comes with quite a few advantages.
Here are five of my favorite benefits:
- Politeness is expected. I worked in this office in Washington where we had a meeting to discuss how we could all be friendlier to one another. My coworkers offered a number of suggestions, including the novel idea of greeting each other in the hallway. I appreciated the sentiment, but I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Where I’m from, people wave at strangers in traffic, speak to cashiers, and stop to help other people fix flat tires. Basically, people are generally expected to “act pretty,” as they say back home, and it creates a cultural norm of politeness that you don’t see in the big city.
- Misbehaving is risky. In small towns, there’s accountability for bad behavior, whether you want it or not. If you decide to blare your horn in traffic, the people around you will probably recognize your car. If you cheat on your spouse, everyone will know about it. Small towns force you to operate at a base level of personal integrity, and when you choose to do otherwise, you run a very real risk of becoming infamous for it.
- Sports are more than a game. High school sports do more than provide entertainment for a small town — they provide identity. For example, back in my hometown, when the Panthers won big, all of Petal won big. In small towns, sports successes have a unique ability to pull everyone in the community together in ways that transcend racial differences, socioeconomic barriers, and cliques.
- Local media keep it personal. In small towns, local newspaper and TV reporters perform a public service of basically being the town heralds. That’s why they show up at school plays, ribbon cutting ceremonies, and high school football games. These events are at the center of life, and if small town news people want to stay relevant, they show up for things that would otherwise be small potatoes for big city reporters.
- Faith doesn’t freak people out. In the big city, you’re usually safer talking about your sex life in public than you are talking about your faith. But in my travels to small towns across America, I’ve noticed that people are often eager to talk about matters of faith — and why wouldn’t they be? It’s natural that people would want to talk about the most central questions of life in public. In giving people space to do that, small towns do a better job of recognizing the whole person.
I don’t mean to glamorize life in a small town. People across America could list plenty of reasons it’s hard to live in a smaller community. And while I can appreciate those reasons, I’m still grateful for the opportunity I had to live in a small town — a world where being a neighbor means a lot more than just living next door to other people.
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