Small Town Living

I just ran across this Chesterton quote at Alexander Pruss’s blog:

Chesterton says, “It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the wilfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery… A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge.”

Having moved here from Houston, I see the truth of what G.K. says here. In small town life we encounter and live out every day life with all kinds of people. I think this is one of the things my son was getting at when he expressed discomfort at his college orientation, “There’s just not the diversity we have in Pittsburg,” As G.K. would note, the irony is that it is the large polis or cosmopolitan institution (the modern American university) that prides itself on being diverse. Taken as a whole, sure they are. But in day to day experience it’s mighty easy to find a critical mass of friends and companions who are just like you.

It’s not just that I know more people, but that I know more kinds of people, and associate with them day to day. In a small town I know the folks at places I shop – often the people who work there and other customers. One of the factors in some articulations of secularization theory has been that as we relate to people in only one setting, one kind of relationship, secularization is one of the results. Small towns resist secularization (some of the time), not just because they’re uneducated “hicks” (the ones around here sure aren’t), but because they experience a different kind of depth to life, unable to segregate themselves from others as easily.

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4 Responses to Small Town Living

  1. this is why I am growing in my interest in Chesterton. Good observances here–thanks.

  2. JAy. says:

    While I agree that the individual is forced to interact with “more kinds of people” in the small town setting, this is not to say that the big town prevents this. The fault lies in human nature. If one is intent on meeting “more kinds of people”, the big town is better, because the depth of “kinds” is greater. Of course, if we only hang out with those who look and act like ourselves, we are doing ourselves, and the big town, a disservice.

    Also, I do not mean this as an ego-boosting, horn-blowing statement. I am no better than most at mixing with other “kinds”. But there is always room for self-improvement, even in Houston!

    God Bless,

  3. rheyduck says:

    I understand JAy. My previous church was full of “different” kinds of people that we don’t have in this small town: Nigerians, Sierra Leonians, Ghanians, Liberians, Kenyans, Indonesians, etc. I loved meeting them and spending time with them. But then I’ve been moving around most of my life, so I’m accustomed to liking differences. In another way, however, we had a similarity there: most all of us were middle class professionals.

  4. Kim says:

    There’s a loneliness in diversity … and this is the kind of loneliness you can find in the small town, or the small church. I find this loneliness often in that most of my fellow churchgoers are blue collar, or if they are white-collar, their education is in something concrete. Yet the diversity also grounds me … my auto=mechanic friend reminds me by his life that living for Christ is about how we live our daily lives with others … my African-refugee friend (who works at Wal-Mart) reminds me that we can find community and love in the Body even when we are so culturally different.

    And what do you do with family, the people you are probably most like, and yet the people that aggravate you the most??? It’s not the diversity that aggravates you about them, it’s how they mirror your worst faults and have so little awe for your accomplishments!

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