Living in small towns: Working the small town mentality to your advantage

Copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC

When people think of living in small towns today, they often know they continue to provide much of the charm, gentler pace, realness of people, and higher degree of safety and sense of community they always have. But, small town living, and the world, have changed somewhat. The small town mentality in a positive note is still there -- providing a sense of belonging and being known and cared for by those around you.

But the small town mentality that some complain about as far as being negative -- too many people knowing your private business or narrow-minded judgements regarding your private business, that seems to be gradually disappearing from more and more small towns. Here’s what seems to be going on, and what you can do if you still see it as a concern in the small town you’re living in or plan to move to.

First off, this issue doesn’t happen just from living in small towns. It happens in more populated areas, also. For example, when it happens in one’s working environment, we call it “office politics.” One can live in a huge city and still have their neighbors, church members, shared-interest groups and colleagues freeze them into a specific characteristic they judge the person to be, even if that judgement was incorrect, or the person used to be that way, but now wants to change. Narrow judgements are a human trait -- it just takes the right environment to bring it out, which is just about everywhere.

When living in small towns, it used to be said you didn’t bother turning on your blinker when driving because everyone already knows where you’re going. Today, with the Internet, even those who refuse to partake in social media such as Facebook can have their photos snapped by amateurs from their cell phone cameras no matter where they are, then they are tagged on social media such as Facebook for a huge number of people they know and don’t know to find out about.

The "online mentality is very much like the old "small town mentality:" Want to try something new, like doing Tai Chi offered in the city park, but want to keep it to yourself at least for now before hearing the predictable judgements of your friends and cousins and co-workers who think it’s all woo-woo? Good luck with today's online community! Word will spread quickly just like small town gossip. Don’t want your new boss to see your mistake of partying too late last weekend? Well, some like to say you’re safe by not putting your own photos up online of that party -- not true, someone at that party has taken shots, and many people will soon witness photos of your adventures that night, possibly with your name tagged to their photos.

And that’s just the stuff you’re really doing. Photos taken and shared to the world without contextual explanation -- such as whispering in the ear of a person of the other gender that “no, you don’t want to go on a date with him or her because you’re in love with someone else,” in a photo can look like a shot of intimate flirting with that person instead. Trying to defend yourself after the fact can be exhausting.

So today, the whole world is in everyone’s business -- it’s not only small towns. In fact, in an odd new way, living in small towns can be havens for escaping from this. When people in your small town know you and your family well, they know that the local kids like to play a version of ring-around-the-rosy they learned in P.E. swim class that they now do in the summer at the local swimming hole. It creates a whirlpool effect and gets the kids giggling. They aren't going to believe online rumors of some strange lake ritual taking place.

I talked with a lovely lady who has lived in the charming small town of LaConner, Washington for more than 30 years. Throughout she has started various ventures, including a business in a local building that’s now thriving. She says you just get used to the exposure and stop worrying about it. Everyone else is exposed, also, so eventually an “I won’t judge you and will let you grow and change if you’ll do the same for me” kind of mutual mentality sinks in. I’ve experienced this as well myself throughout the changes I’ve gone through while living in a small town.

Also, the idea of living in small towns is becoming more popular with more and more people able to work from distant home offices rather than having to live where the work is. This brings in a diversity of ideas and hobbies and interests, so the small town community isn’t as narrow as it used to be.

Via the online global community, most everyone is exposed to a diversity of thought systems as well, so that keeps judgements from attaching so quickly to small town residents who choose to act or think out of the “norm.”

However, for those who really are looking for a small town with a particular major viewpoint and don’t want that viewpoint to change -- such as a small town with a heavy artists’ influence, or one with a conservative religious majority, those towns most certainly exist in high numbers and can be sought out and enjoyed once you live there, also. Today, more and more, those towns become that way by choice -- the citizens do see other alternatives and they choose their favorite from that. It’s not as though they live a certain way out of a narrow vision that no other choices exist. In a way, that makes their community’s personality even more passionate.

Really, living in small towns is now for almost everyone -- just find and nurture the one that best suits you.

Here’s a final tip for those living in small towns who like the sense of close community that knows you well, but also occasionally need a sense of anonymity now and then. I am this way. And if you’re like me, you love the sense of village and community, and adore living in small towns. But you also have an explorers’/wanderers’ mind and for some reason find it fun now and then to be anonymous around people who have no idea who you are.

The way I nurture this side of myself is to maintain connections or activities outside of town. From my own small town, I can take an inexpensive two-hour shuttle or train ride to the large city down south, spend a couple hours or more playing in that crowded anonymous atmosphere, and return home to my friendly small home town by dinner time. And there are many variations to this, including finding and maintaining wholesome online communities and developing interests in other favorite small towns where you visit friends or family, or attend workshops or classes... or simply take walks and find a favorite cafe.

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