Are we at a great divide? How different are we? Are we more alike that different? How do we bridge the gulf that seems to be growing with each election?
No matter whether it is in an urban or rural setting, there are both advantages to enjoy and disadvantages to overcome. To thrive, people need to understand the environment they are in and meet its challenges. A wise man once observed that we need to unpack our bags and live like we are going to be there forever, even if it is for a short while.
What does city life have to offer? Why do people live in places with long lines, intruding noises, congestion, traffic jams, bristling energy, quick-paced hurry, frequent crime, activity overload, and impersonal neighbors? Why does city life have such appeal despite obvious shortcomings?
For good reasons. City life has much to offer: freedom, opportunity, equality, affluence, and tolerance. The indifferent stage of the city offers a wide variety of choices and opportunities. It is a place where excellence can be pursued relatively unfettered by constricting social roles and binding obligations. It is a place where dreams are dreamt and frontiers beckon.
The city, bristling with energy, challenges the spirit in the same way the unbroken prairies excited the pioneers. Author Ole Rolvaag wrote of those days, “Youth was in the race, the unknown, the untried was in the air, people caught in it were intoxicated by it, threw themselves away and laughed at the cost. Of course it was possible – everything was possible out here. There was no such thing as impossible anymore.”
The new frontiers of the city today beckon the ambitious, the dissatisfied, the upwardly mobile – those looking for a better life. The choices aren’t limited to employment and education. They extend to exciting possibilities for friendships, courtship, goods and services, leisure and recreation, cultural events, interest groups, and specialists of all sorts. The main patterns of life are designed according to one’s own choosing.
The blue needs a healthy dose of red. However, to thrive in the city, one needs to be adept at seeking and putting into place things that are not naturally there – the things that we find in rural communities. We need connections and belonging with other people, social support, social commitments and accountability to the community as a whole. We benefit from a periodic renewal with nature to remind us of spiritual matters and of natural beauty.
Above all, we have to use our freedoms wisely. In the absence of constraining values, freedom can be gluttonous. In the presence of so many choices we need to be goal-directed, focused and disciplined. We cannot define life too narrowly on career and self at the expense of social, spiritual, and family values.
We need to care about family values, community life and the cultural environment as it affects everyone. We need to slow down and savor the moment. The charity we feel must be expressed on an interpersonal level as well as in economics and community betterment.
By keeping a proper perspective, the anonymity and opportunity of the city can be used to advantage to fashion a full and rich life. The urban equation of freedom, opportunity and equality needs to be balanced with the rural equation of love, authority, and accountability.
The red need a dose of the blue. To thrive in the country, one needs to be adept at seeking and putting into place the things that are not naturally there – the things we find in a city. We need to bring challenging opportunities within reach, to find or create new frontiers in old territory. We need personal goals and personal accomplishments to add to shared triumphs and experiences. We need to network in and out of the community for kindred spirits that stimulate and challenge us.
We need intricate and sophisticated social skills to negotiate complicated relationships. We are not in a position to pick and choose who our associates will be. We need to accept others freedom to choose and make their own way even if our vested interests are at stake.
The charity we feel needs to be expressed not only to our neighbors and loved ones but also to those who are different than ourselves and to the less fortunate, most of whom we may never meet. We need to be accepting, tolerant and be willing to listen to others and seek solutions that benefit all parties.