Small communities are two kinds of special. A small community can be a place of good people who would do anything for each other and will help out a stranger if needed. They also can have a darker side of illegal activities, whispered gossip of secret knowledge, and a narrow view of the rest of the world. It is the Jeckle and Hyde personality of a small town that is never discussed, but almost always there.
Ruts of a Small Town
Change happens in small towns, but it often follows a counterintuitive logic. If the change is rational, involving a relatively workable plan of implementation, it is often viciously opposed by some people in the community. If the change is a Music Man-type (see video clip below) change consisting of unproven goals with lofty promises, a small community often embraces it.
What that means is that small communities often don’t change significantly over time. The ‘BIG’ change that is going to reinvent the community typically falls flat. That results if a fear of change. Without change, life becomes a rut that everyone falls into.
Aging and Small Towns: The ‘Comfort Zone’
Growing up in a small town is an interesting window into human development. Ask high school students what they want to do when they graduate and often the response is, “Get out of this hick town as fast as possible.” Small towns often don’t have enough jobs for high school graduating classes. College is often the best way for children to break out of the small town cycle.
But even those who go off to college sometimes return because there is a ‘comfort zone’ in living where hu grew up. As people grow older, the desire to ‘get out of Dodge’ is replaced with the fear of living somewhere else. That fear is eventually replaced by an intense loyalty to small-town life. Usually, older the person, the more defensive they are about living in a small town.
Small Towns and Confirmation Bias
In a small town, everyone knows everyone. As people age, they have a select few friends that they have significant contact. In some cases, daily contact. Unlike cities, people in small towns may see the same people at work, at school, at the grocery store, at church, etc. This immersion with other people creates intimate friendships that are as close, possibly closer, than marriage relationships.
People in small towns have limited experiences with people outside of their community and intimate friendships. They tend to develop a groupthink about the world and people outside their community. When all your close friends have the same lack of knowledge and experience with the rest of the world, people are exposed to ‘confirmation bias.’ This bias occurs when friends confirm a person’s beliefs, and other information that might counter those beliefs are ignored or unknown by the group.
Typically, confirmation bias fosters negative attitudes about people who are not like them. That leads to a conservative mindset that is easily exploited. It is not a coincidence that rural environments are ripe for politically conservative influence because they focus on telling rural communities exactly what they want to hear.
Small Town Black Holes
All of this is a generalization of small town people. To be fair, problems of larger communities, such as traffic, noise, pollution, homelessness, etc. are not the ideals of any community; however, small towns have an environment that generates the same patterns over and over. Children in a small town will often grow up to be like hu’s parents. People living in a marginal society disjoined from the world.