There is something fundamentally different about a small town where many of the residents work in or around the town. There is a "connectedness" that you don’t find in small towns that are bedroom communities
I am sure some bright young sociologist has already mapped this out, but I have discovered a phenomenon in Floyd that I have not experienced elsewhere and I want to jot down my observations before they fade away and lose their freshness.
I am sure there are other places like Floyd, but I have not seen them. I have lived in several small towns, some of them as small as Floyd, but they were mainly bedroom communities for commuters.
In these towns, neighborhood relationships were mostly created by mothers with young school-aged children or by employees of companies in the same industry. The networks were fragmentary and most families were essentially isolated, even from their immediate neighbors.
I lived in many small communities where I didn’t know the names of the neighbors I could see from my front steps.
Our lives were severely compartmentalized. Neighbors would get divorced and move away and the remaining neighbors would not know where they had gone or what happened.
In Floyd, on the other hand, it seems like everyone is connected in some way and the effect is multiplied because many people work several jobs. We discovered this early on when our mailman introduced himself as our County Supervisor. By the time we got to town the next day to go shopping, several people knew who we were and where we lived.
In the next few weeks, we found ourselves greeted warmly by strangers all over town. We figured they spotted us as newcomers because we hadn’t figured out how to look like Floyd natives yet. Maybe our Muck Boots were too new and our jeans didn’t have that well-worn look yet.
No, it was merely the fact that the 500-odd people working in Floyd knew everyone else, so we had to be the new people. Now that we have been here for ten months, we can spot strangers ourselves, even those who come from neighboring communities.
Now that I am working in the community and interacting with people all over the county, I see another ramification of life in Floyd. Many of the married couples keep their own names so you can talk with a Mary Smith, for instance, and find out later that you were talking with Bill Brown’s wife. A failure to understand the first person can ricochet through the community and one ends up with unexpected responses from someone one doesn’t even know.
It dawned on me several weeks ago that in a small and tightly interconnected community, changes are best made slowly and with full agreement of those you are dealing with. Urgency creates ripples and destructive side effects.
In a loosely connected community, news good or bad travels slowly or not at all. It takes more activity to create an effect in the first place and the isolation of the community members creates a damping effect. As a result, activists and agents of change find themselves shouting and demonstrating wildly to create any lasting effect at all.
A tightly connected community is like a "Slow Wake Zone". Very small changes introduced too quickly create undesired effects on all sides. One is not dealing with individuals. One is dealing with a network of tightly linked individuals.
Every conversation will be relayed to several others, which is fine if your conversation was mutually satisfactory. If the conversation ends with a misunderstanding, you can be assured that the misunderstanding will gain momentum as it is relayed to family and friends of friends, etc.
The best handling is to reestablish communication and discuss any misunderstanding and upset until accord is reached. Well-intentioned people are able to do this and usually do so when they realize they have created waves in an otherwise smooth environment.
When one is an agent of change, it is absolutely necessary to understand the benefits and problems that can come with introducing change into a tightly-connected community. If change is introduced slowly enough and carefully enough, it is like a rising tide, smooth and irresistible.
If change is introduced abruptly, the reaction is destructive to all concerned.
There is an ancient saying that can be applied here: Make haste slowly…
I’m still working on the "slowly" part.