Yes, it has been over three weeks since I last posted. I’m sorry for the few people who might be reading this, but the semester started and I’ve been exquisitely busy these last couple of weeks getting my students into line…
I also needed a bit of off time to collect ideas, experiences, and other thoughts, as I was almost at the point by the beginning of September when I didn’t have anything interesting–at least not interesting to me–to say…
That has changed–I actually have a number of interesting things–at least to me–to talk about, but tonight, because it’s late and I have to teach tomorrow early–I’ll just bring up the quickest one.
This thought came about as I, for like the third or fourth time, had the chance to speak with someone who grew up in a radically different physical setting than me and a topic of conversation came up that led to the recognition of an interesting phenomenon.
Specifically, I got to talk with two guys who were born, raised, and continue to live in the country–whereas I grew up in Chicagoland and now live in Madison, WI. The recurring topic of conversation that reared its head–as it has in a number of other conversations with people who grew up in the country–was driving, directions, and getting lost.
Perhaps not surprisingly, each of us had very different ideas about what kind of driving was fun but we also had very different experiences with getting lost and had very different views about where it was easier to get lost.
The country folk I’ve met have consistently told me, to the last one, that they HATE driving in the city because they get lost so easily and there is so much traffic and that it is terribly confusing.
Such a reaction, of course, is not surprising from someone whose normal experience is driving on country roads.
However, what I found interesting is that I had/have almost the exact opposite reaction to driving. To me, cities are easy to drive in–even if there are weird streets and one-way rules–because if you miss your turn, it is almost never that hard to just go around the block and fix the problem in a brief amount of time. In contrast, I don’t like driving out in the country, because the signage there is often terrible, and if you make a wrong turn in an unfamiliar area, you may spend forever trying to rectify your mistake.
What was particularly intriguing to me was when I reflected on how these two ways of driving not only really reflected strong cultural differences, but that they were also embedded deeply in how urban vs. rural individuals approach life in general–at least as I’ve observed them.
To elaborate–most rural folks–given the more circumscribed options that their road networks and communities give them–due to size, complexity, etc–tend to approach life with a view that:
a) life itself is structured by just a few well-known rules;
b) One learns these rules early on, and everyone around you also knows these rules by heart like you do–thus no one makes mistakes (like in driving) very much, because you all already know that this is THE WAY to do stuff..;
c) you will be mostly on your own or with just a few close friends as you trace your path through life and there will rarely be anyone to contradict or question you about these things. You can be incredibly independent in this situation and assume that everyone else enjoys this state of affairs–and wants to exist in this state of freedom.
Such a view–which totally mimics the way that most of these rural folks approach driving around–makes a lot of sense in the context of the location they are in. That is the solution to the problem of living in such an area and it encourages a view that life and society are not actually that complex–and that this simplicity also extends not only to guidelines that you have to follow, but also the options that are open to you.
In contrast–city driving and life teaches you a very different set of rules… Specifically, it teaches you:
a) There are many, many different ways to get where you want to be–and this complexity is increased by many other possible factors that are often beyond your control–so you have to do a lot of planning if you want to achieve your goals and arrive on time…;
b) People around you are not all doing the same thing and they all have different rules that they are following and different goals that they are trying to achieve. Thus, although you may be on a path with a number of people at any one point in time–you cannot expect that they will also be trying to do the same thing as you–or that they will follow the same rules. You also may learn that the rules you have learned at home may not actually be the best rules in all situations–you can learn new shortcuts from others if you are open to listening…;
c) Making mistakes in such a complex world is common, but they are also quickly rectified–and they are accepted as a state of life. They are less of a big deal because everyone also lives in this complexity and has made such mistakes themselves. Thus, people learn to just role with such a mistake and move on–and not get frazzled by them..;
d) You will rarely be alone, and you will be questioned and challenged every day. You will see this as a natural state of affairs and learn how to deal with it. You will also see your independence circumscribed a lot, but that is part of the deal of having everyone else have theirs circumscribed too.. The complexities of a multitude of different groups in close proximity compels this fact…but it also balanced out by the mutlitude of interesting experiences and opportunities around you…
So.. these were my thoughts—that the way you drive in these different environments really mirrors the cultural experiences, traditions, and outlooks of the people living in them. In the country, freedom and tradition are structured by sparsity, whereas in the city, interdependence and evolution are structured by complexity.