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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Don’t Tolerate Division in Community

There is a funny thing about small towns: sometimes they can be the most supportive places you can imagine, giving individuals a sense of identity, deep roots and often plenty of encouragement. And then there is something else that happens in small towns. With a little help from Wikipedia and a bit of creative license let me describe this negative small town attitude as a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” Individuals, who could easily do better than what is offered in the small town, are held back in a useless “king of the hill” competition (or sabotage), which prevents many deserving individuals from high achievement. In other words, the group will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings. This is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to escape a so-called “underprivileged life,” but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.”
But, small towns can also be great. Who wouldn’t want to live in Mayberry or Lake Wobegon? Who doesn’t want the comfort of wise neighbors and caring relatives? Think of the simple challenges of being a teenager in Hill Valley: nuclear powered DeLoreans, time traveling professors and the chance to find out what your parents were really like when they were kids. Maybe when you think of the perfect village you think of Bedford Falls without the saving and loans crisis. Today, obviously, there are a lot more folks trying to turn our world into a collection of Pottervilles, than there are George Baileys trying to create neighborhoods filled with fellowship and equity.
Unfortunately, there are more Springfields, creating Homer Simpsons than there are Smallvilles, raising Supermen. For every Hogsmeade there is a Haddonfield. It seems these days that every Winter River has its Beetlejuice and every Amity Island has its killer wildlife, the current monster being a tiny tick. Today, Emerald City is more likely to resemble Gotham City.
Most small towns are far more complex than they appear. Maycomb, Alabama looked like a great place in which to be a precocious child, rich in Southern culture with the challenges of surviving in a world of chronic poverty and outdated social norms. Of course not a good place to be if your skin is too dark and folks think the continent your ancestors were brought from is a country.
Driving through Hickory in the 1950’s must have been pretty interesting. Old time barber shops where white men used to gather to get their haircut, swap lies and share their opinions about the latest and greatest seed corn; country stores with all the latest farm gadgets; and a central high school. This might be a great place to play basketball but not so good for strangers, no matter how good their coaching skills.
Life in Grover’s Corners is a mirror of the human condition: this is a town that could be anywhere at any time. It could be your town or my town. It is always good to remember that one of the best things to do with life in a small town is to live it.
The Southside needs to be ever vigilant not to become a Gopher Prairie, feeding on petty differences and looking constantly to hobble the best things we already have achieved. Right now is a very challenging time for our community: a long recession, folks losing their homes, unemployment, a feeling that gains made in the last few decades are now being reversed … and an election. My hope is that we do not accept leaders who are in a constant struggle to pull each other down (especially in this election year) and who will use any means to discredit their perceived opponents.
As Jason Rose pointed out last year at Villages in Transition III, the greatest thing our community has to sell is its multiculturalism. We were multicultural long before anyone was using the term. We should not tolerate any leader who tries to divide us and tries to tarnish this cherished asset.
We need to support leaders who are dedicated to moving all of our citizens forward, not holding them back. And, we need to support institutions like South Mountain Community College, which has been a gateway for the advancement of all the citizens of the Southside for 30 years.
We need to make it clear to our political leaders that we will judge them not just for what they say or even for what they have done, but also by how they treat their fellow candidates and if they are willing to tear down our community and our trusted institutions to help themselves gain power. Our leaders need to get the message that we will not tolerate any negative “small town attitudes.”
The Southside is not Cuesta Verde Estates. We are a community built on great traditions and not on a cemetery of tired clichés and outdated rhetoric.

Written by Greg Brownell

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