Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Having lived in rural, small-town and urban settings, I think my grasp of conditions on a local and worldwide level are fairly well balanced. I am amazed when I see folks with very narrow perspectives. Narrow perspectives lead to tribalism.

Narrow perspectives can be found everywhere – rural, small-town and urban settings. I have even seen people in one setting move to another and slowly forget the setting they had previously experienced, completely adopting the new one. I have done this.

Some often think folks in a rural setting have a limited view of the world. I disagree, and think I can prove it. In a rural setting without much other exposure, one can be very limited, but the same is true elsewhere.

I am reminded of the story of the woman in New York, who, in December 1968, was astounded that Richard Nixon had won the election, remarking, “I don’t know anyone who voted for him, how could he win?”

I once knew a gentleman who had grown up in a remote village on the Mediterranean Sea in the late 1940s and early 1950s. No electricity. Yet, he was a walking encyclopedia when it came to famous operas. His parents had a wind-up Victrola and a large stack of opera recordings. He had spent his entire childhood listening to nothing else.

He may have been limited in other ways, but I would defy anyone to be more of an expert than he was. He, at least in one area of his life, possessed no tribalism.

Another New York experience, my own. In the early 1980s, I lived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and worked for a company in western Kentucky. My daily commute was to cross the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, drive down through southern Illinois, cross the Ohio River, and then I was at work.

Once, while visiting our company’s headquarters at 299 Park Avenue in Manhattan, I hailed a taxi to go to LaGuardia and fly home. The taxi driver was from the Ukraine.

Somehow, he had gotten to New York and was living with an aunt and uncle. He got a job driving a taxi. He asked me what it was like where I lived. I described my commute, from small town, across two major rivers, through the rural countryside with farm animals and wildlife.

He was astounded. He assumed all of the U.S. was just like the part he had experienced, a world basically bounded by three airports – La Guardia, JFK and Newark. He couldn’t imagine there was anything else here in America.

I have had similar experiences all over the world, from southern Mississippi to Finland, South Korea, Singapore and on and on. Everyone slowly starts thinking the world they are experiencing daily is just like the rest of the world. Or, alternatively, if they don’t think that, they view the rest of the world as hostile and dangerous.

The movie “My Cousin Vinny” is a great study in this sort of tribalism. New Yorkers thrust into southern Alabama. Both sides view the other with suspicion and doubt. Makes for a hilarious movie, but one that rings way too true.

So, when you hear people talk about “tribalism” today, think about where you are and what your experiences have been.

I know few people who have overcome tribalism attitudes. I know fewer still who are even aware of their own tribalism perspective.

Tribalism is not new, nor can it be laid at the feet of any one individual or group. To use a phrase that has been recently worn out, when it comes to tribalism attitudes, “We are all in this together.”

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.