Whiting column: The rural and urban difference is attitude
Our country’s divisions are numerous, but consistent in cause and effect.
We have red and blue states, conservatives and liberals, makers and takers, achievers and receivers, but the starkest is rural and urban. Mending these divisions requires discerning the root cause of the divergent rural and urban attitudes and values.
Childhood environment provides the most likely causality. Seldom did students enter my classroom without any preconceived notions planted by their parents; as they should have been. Students who worked hard in class and valued hard work usually came from parents’ role modeling the same.
Expecting to work for what one receives as opposed to expecting governmental bailouts is a common rural value. A bad precedent was set when the government subsidized businesses they deemed too big to fail. Now they are subsidizing people that don’t feel the need to work.
It’s a function of how we were raised and what we experienced. Those who grew up working in high school, summers and college tend to value what they earned. Others feel they are owed a free college education because they exist; opportunity isn’t enough. It’s as simple as expecting to work first and receive second as opposed to expecting to receive first and then doing something. Maybe.
Growing up working one learns that every day is a workday. Whether taking care of livestock, changing the irrigation water, or harvesting a crop, the weekend isn’t a day off. There are responsibilities that must be fulfilled. Working for a restaurant, hotel, rafting company, ski area, gas station and the like means weekends are two workdays. Those that grew up with daily chores tend to value and exhibit hard work.
The nature of rural living facilitates one learning to take command of their own life whether it be driving a rural road in winter, chopping wood for heat, or trying to harvest an elk for food. All the conveniences of urban life aren’t necessarily available around the corner.
We all need money, but for those in rural areas, your work is your identity. Many in urban areas work solely to pay for things, consequently if they receive the money necessary without it, they don’t feel the need to work. The rural mindset thinks in terms of working until the job is done; the urban concept tends to stop working when the clock says your day is done.
When life’s inevitable mistakes or disappointments occur, the rural attitude is to acknowledge, apologize and fix. The urban thought tends to look for something or someone else to blame for their choices or what they don’t have.
The rural/urban divide has magnified in recent years providing additional insight. A daily life involving work and outdoors compared to urban concrete can’t help but influence one’s actions and values.
The traditional rural lifestyle involves providing and raising the necessities of urban life. Rural grows crops, urban eats crops. Rural grows livestock; urban eats meat. Rural produces lumber; urban lives in a house. Rural raises horses; urban wants to ride them on weekends.
Because the oil and natural gas used by the urban sector is typically produced in rural areas those working in those industries reside there. The dams, coal mines and respective power plants necessary to meet the urban electrical demand tend to be rural. The renewable energy sources of wind turbines and solar fields tend to be rural as well.
Water is not an exception. Whether it be transmountain pipelines or downstream dams the water is supplied by the rural high-country snowpack. The ski areas, trails, rivers and mountains so valued for urban resident recreation are a rural function.
In all these examples, the urban sector expects to use the rural sector for their benefit and is comfortable doing so.
This explains the examples of urban areas utilizing their population advantage to make decisions that don’t consider the ramifications for rural citizens. Transplanting wolves, mileage-based automobile taxes, diverting highway funds to urban areas, basing educational funding on student numbers, requiring the use of doctors in urban-based medical networks, reducing oil/gas production without consideration of lost jobs and economic value, proposed ballot issues effectively eliminating the livestock industry and mandated statewide economic shutdowns to name a few. Empathy does not seem to be in the urban lexicon.
But rural is more than living there. One doesn’t go from urban to rural values by moving to a smaller town. Buying a 5-acre ranchette doesn’t make you a cowboy. They may own a pair of cowboy boots, but there won’t be any manure on them or know which end of the cow to avoid. It isn’t about what you wear, it’s about actions and attitudes. Significant change only occurs from the inside out. There are plenty of people living in the rural environment with the urban viewpoint.
The urban mindset and using attitude tend to stay with them when they move. The problem is they want to change their new locality into the urban one from which they came. It doesn’t make sense to desire to move away from the urban condition and then seek to change their new home to what they left.
It’s our personal responsibility to fight urban dominance by possessing, modeling and urging others to incorporate rural values and empathize.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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