Rural Communities and Bustling Metropolitans

Differences in perspective can feel overwhelming at times.

There’s a familiar narrative that many of us have heard and participated in that generally begins with the following premise: one’s successes and failures depend solely on the effort of an individual.

It often looks something like this: if you want to accel in a company, work as hard as you can and show your loyalty and dedication to your boss. In exchange, you may be promoted to a higher-paying job.

Sometimes, the narrative goes like this: you had sex outside of wedlock and are now pregnant. Not only this is a moral failing, but also displays a lack of personal willpower and the inability to keep your hormones and sexual urges in check. You deserve all that may follow — especially the grief and pain.

These, and a dozen other similar stories, all boil down to the same basic premise. Each individual is the master of his or her fate; each of us has final say in how we act and what we do. Ultimately, if we succeed it is by our hand — with minimal support and/or hindrance of community and government. Conversely, if we fail, the fault lies entirely with the individual (again with minimal meddling from external forces) and we should accept the consequences of our failures as necessary and just punishment.

Some people see the world through this lens of paramount individuality. And it leads to conclusions that may appear obvious when looked at through this particular lens. Let me give a couple of examples:

  • If individuality is really the end-all, then addiction is a moral failure and a failure of willpower (to the effect of “if you’re addicted to alcohol, just don’t drink” or “if you’re fat, just eat less”).
  • Similarly, if one’s failures are strictly one’s fault and all consequences just, then government programs and safety nets are not important. If you so happen to have a crappy job where you can’t progress, it’s your fault and it’s not the government’s job to save you from your bad work ethic.

Seeing the world with the glasses of individuality firmly planted on your face can sometimes be a good thing. It might drive you to make better choices, knowing that if you fall, no one will be there to catch you. But it also means that failure can be critically dangerous; your survival is no longer a guarantee.

Moreover, it also pits you against other people. It allows you to judge them as better or worse, as more or less deserving. And this mindset tends to proliferate in more rural communities. It’s a different perspective from what one might find in larger cities.

In many ways, it’s not a divide of location — it’s not rural communities versus metropolitan megacities. It’s tradition and belief and culture; it’s rooted in one’s morals and upbringing. It’s woven into one’s cultures. It’s preached in church.

To some, it is the way of the world and from this internal place comes ideology.

I would argue that this is a dangerous and misguided ideology based on faulty logic. We’re not all our own castles — there are no motes and crocodiles around our hearts and minds. We don’t have nearly the control that we might imagine — if you think you have control, sit quietly for ten minutes and don’t think about anything. Good luck.

Furthermore, we are not the sum of our achievements and failures. We rely on the works of governments and communities every day, from electricity and running water to roads and fire departments. Our justice system and our political systems are out of our singular control. We are not islands and we shouldn’t be. As social creatures, we thrive best among others of our own kind and we succeed best in large, coordinated groups.

And when we step away from the power of the individual and pour our hearts and souls into community, we can do amazing things.

Seeing the larger picture, we might then look less as individual failings and more about real, genuine causes. Childbirth out of wedlock becomes less moral dilemma and more a discussion of roadblocks and circumstances. Success moves from some unseen effort to causes and situations — we can talk about one’s socioeconomic status and that of one’s family, community, and city if we can accept that these matter. Addiction becomes less moral fall and more physical injury (alongside mental illness). Obesity moves out of the realm of food intake and into the realm of food availability, body composition, and job opportunities.

When we can look at all the factors that contribute to a problem, we can begin to formulate solutions. But living in the mindset of individual will takes away our ability to do that, I think.

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