Not So Welcome
4 years ago we moved to a small rural town in the hopes of stepping in and helping out in as many different ways as we could.
We mistakenly thought it would be similar to what was in the photo. I mean, isn’t it like that everywhere?
The answer is no. No, it’s not like that everywhere.
We were advised from a few locals early on to “just sit back and watch for the first year or so” and we reluctantly did.
Once we got here we had lots of conversations with locals and heard things such as: “No one will accept you”, “No one will listen to you here”, “People aren’t open to new ideas”, “If you don’t belong to their church people will not talk to you”, and my favorite, “Change is not welcome here.”
More about the sign in the photo in a minute.
We heard all these things about our area but shook our heads in disbelief. It just didn’t seem real. Each person we met seemed super kind and accepting, yet the collective “area” wasn’t. The area was beautiful and seemed like it was moving in “the right direction!” from an outside perspective.
Like, how is it even remotely possible for all this to be true and be SO different than where we’re from?
Now, truth be told, it’s probably like this in most of small-town America.
In other words, this isn’t unique to here.
Most small towns and cities can probably be described by many, if not all of the following:
Lots of traditions. A few people “run” most of the town. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. Outsiders aren’t welcome. We’ve always done it this way. “We don’t need your help”. Rumors and gossip run rampant. “Who are you to tell us anything?” Incompetent local government. “There’s nothing to do here”. Family name has more weight than it should. “Thanks, but no thanks”. Going to church automatically makes someone “good” or “acceptable”. Questioning the status quo is frowned upon. The origin of an idea (the person who came up with it) makes all the difference. Shady business practices. Behind-closed-doors decisions that surprise the public. Diversity isn’t really a thing (race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation / partner preference, etc.), nor is it widely accepted or welcomed.
Gosh, most of that could be just about any big city, too, if you look close enough.
And, I wonder if that’s just in America?
With that, we dialed it back a notch or ten and did our best to not ‘rock the boat’ our first year while we became acclimated to our surroundings.
Although we dialed it back, we still found ways to step up and out while trying to stay ‘invisible’.
It was tough.
We asked questions and got the silent treatment. We offered 50+ businesses help and got rejected by every single one. We got turned down from the school system. We got involved in local politics and got shut down. We joined in with several athletic ventures (7 different teams / sports) and offered assistance and denied in all cases. We offered the high school a way of measuring and improving athletic & coaching performance across all sports teams and were told the parents and coaches would never accept it.
And, we weren’t “selling” anything. We offered help at no cost only after seeing ways of improving and offering up solutions. We explained our educational and professional backgrounds and how we’ve consulted businesses for years, developed dozens of business plans & written policies, procedures and training materials for a wide variety of ventures.
The hardest part is watching people struggle AND refuse help. Worse, is watching others, locally, take advantage of them in every way possible. I used to think it was merely ignorance, but I’ve since changed my mind.
It’s willful ignorance.
Willful ignorance occurs when information is presented or available and the potential recipient refuses to look at, consider or remotely entertain the possibility of something different or better.
We have an online business and don’t ask much of anyone here nor do we talk about what we do. With that, it’s made more than a few people uncomfortable. We also purchase most things online (they cost less than many “jacked up” prices locally) and get them shipped, which has also made people uncomfortable (as in, “they don’t support local businesses”).
I bring all of this up because of the sign itself.
In places where diversity is at play, it’s much easier to find people and businesses interested in improvement. Customer service and retention is often prioritized and businesses start and thrive or die based on their reputation and how they treat people.
In small towns, deep pockets can keep people out and keep people coming back because of a lack of options. If you’re the only “blank” in town, you’ll get the business.
By welcoming ALL types of people (as the sign suggests), it’s easier to serve the public and welcome tourists.
It’s refreshing because by welcoming ALL types of people you experience a wide range of people that allow you to adapt and reserve judgment.
When you reserve judgment you have an open mind, or are considered open-minded. When you dismiss people, places, things, and ideas without any regard or consideration it’s considered close-minded.
Being around close-mindedness drives me crazy.
I see it regularly here in a small town, and I’m equally dumbfounded each time.
It’s not specific to here, though, as it can be found anywhere. It’s just much more of the norm in small towns.
I mean, I get that people have natural protections and skepticisms and beliefs, but at what point does someone just say “okay, I know it all now” or “okay, I know enough now” and become close-minded?
Being open-minded is a noteworthy skill and is so useful across a wide-array of subject areas, especially in business.
And, it’s a skill that can be learned.
Aristotle was onto something when he said, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Meaning, it’s important to be open-minded enough to think through options from others.
More so, entertaining someone’s thoughts without prejudging them makes a huge difference in conversations.
And, for those that are running businesses, why would you not look at best practices around the world and apply them locally?
Learn to ask questions to further understand other businesses and build true, meaningful connections. Look outside of your own industry and apply ideas, concepts and customer retention programs.
Imagine what it would be like if all small businesses took the time to truly get to know their customers. How different would it be if they considered the lifetime value of a customer instead of a single transaction?
It starts with your signage and your ‘curb appeal’. And then it goes to your front line and those who make the first impression. And then, every touch-point thereafter.
They all matter and they have to be real (i.e., not just a sign).
Everything about a business comes into play when it comes to attracting customers and then getting them to come back tomorrow and next week and next year and so on.
The same goes for small towns.
Attracting businesses and people (to move there) is very similar. Tourism is very much the same. Infrastructure is much more than just highways and parkways. There has to be an overall sense of open-mindedness and acceptance of ALL to start and then a ton of touch points that all matter mixed in with a retention strategy.
Else, people will just come and go. Or, perhaps, not come at all.
It’s not about money. It’s about treating people right. All people. Inside and outside your organization. Inside and outside your social circle. Not just the ones who look like you, talk like you, eat what you do, go to your church, etc.
Be open to new ideas and stretch if you want to grow. Talk about what you know and listen to others. Help others and be willing to accept help when others offer it back. Growth mindsets help in all areas of life.
If you matter to someone or some business or some small town, you’ll know it.
If not, you’ll know that too.
Kudos to Dunedin. You’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve identified a critical ingredient for a recipe for success that can get handed down to future generations.
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