If you asked anyone who knows me if I’m a ‘city-slicker,’ I would bet they’d say yes. While I personally don’t care much for the title, I’d probably have to agree as well. I’ve lived most of my life in or near the Twin Cities, many of my formative experiences occurred there, and most of my friends and family still live there as well. From the amenities to the diverse people I got to meet, I genuinely enjoyed life in the city.
So when I told people that I was moving to western Minnesota to work at a small town newspaper, they almost all reacted with the same three word response; ‘You’re moving where?’ I suspect that most couldn’t find Granite Falls on a map and even fewer had ever been there in person. I was genuinely confused by these reactions. It was as if I had decided to live in a foreign country.
Most of the responses probably weren’t intended as judgements, either of myself or of Granite Falls. More than anything else, they were expressions of bewilderment. Why would I, a young person with a college degree, choose to live in small rural town out in western Minnesota? It’s not that they had anything against rural places or people, it just wasn’t somewhere a city person should want to go.
No matter how many reasons I gave (“It’s a beautiful place,” “The people are really nice,” “It’s a fantastic job opportunity”) I sensed a lingering apprehension. ‘But why?,’ everybody seemed to ask silently. In some ways, their puzzlement made sense. Popular perception says that young people are suppose to move from the country to the city, not the other way around. Yet for people to think this way, they have to first believe in a world where large cities are the center of everything. They also have to believe that rural communities are dying, or that they were quaint places to visit, but never to live in. They have to believe, in other words, in a stereotype. I was confused because my four years studying, working, and living in another small town, Morris, showed me something radically different.
The people I’ve met out here are extraordinarily respectful. They take the time to actually remember who you are and what you’ve been up to (which can be both a blessing and a curse). There are entrepreneurs working tirelessly to revolutionize rural economies through clean energy and small local start-ups. These are people who are proud of who they are and where they’re from. In all of the ways that actually matter, they’re no different from the people I grew up with in the Twin Cities.
In our age of division, it’s all too common to fall into stereotypes. We rely on these false generalizations because it’s easier than actually making the effort to get to know someone who might be superficially different. To overcome a stereotype, you can’t just reject or ignore it, you have to believe it is false. You have to be okay with realizing that not everybody lives their life the same way as you might.
We often talk about issues of distrust and division in the abstract, without realizing that these very same dynamics are playing out right here in our state. Having straddled the gulf between urban and rural, I’ve realized that while there are real differences between the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, there’s also a lot we have in common.