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A view of war from the Great Plains

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Editor’s Note: I am posting part of a commentary from Margaret Figert, a retired frontier newspaper publisher, writing from Valentine Nebraska, on the edge of the Sand Hills and the Great Sioux Nation. I’ll provide some comments on her commentary in the next posting.

… it’s good to be wise about how we approach autumn and this year’s coming national election.

Things have turned ugly nationwide with adults recently slapping a pro-Trump hat off a child (they were arrested and charged), recent shootings that were first denounced as hate crimes but offered later evidence to have possibly been self-defense, and business people moving their goods and services away from familiar surroundings to states where sanity still reigns.

We here in the Plains might find our communities growing, which will require more housing, more grocery stores, more gas stations, restaurants and the like. Some will welcome the new economic expansion, while others may fear the misdeeds and crime that newcomers not familiar with long-respected local behaviors might bring with them.

Churches, county commissions, city councils, school boards, police departments, fire departments, health care and other public venues might find our communities being challenged with both logistical needs and attitudes that new influxes of people will display.

Many communities promote themselves as places to visit and play. I wonder, however, how many openly welcome people from other states, cities and towns to relocate and grow roots among us. That kind of communication might need a boost from local folks who realize the need to establish a rapport with newcomers while, simultaneously, apprising them of local customs, morés and expectations.

“We welcome you, but here’s how we do things,” doesn’t have to be a bully’s way of dictating expected behavior. By changing the “but” to “and”, it can be, with gentle firmness, a neighbor’s way of guiding newcomers with a warm, welcoming handshake into learning the unspoken rules of living in a new community.

If we gossip to new families about the alleged misdeeds of the folks next door, will we instill in them a sense of needless wariness? If, however, we introduce ourselves to new people and then invite them to participate in family-type community activities, we open the way for their acceptance among us. Community sports, arts and crafts, libraries, adult education courses, the abundance of nature – all these and more are often available as avenues for newbies to expand their horizons while adapting to our community patterns.

Who knows, when meeting someone the first time, what inspired talents, solid attributes and beneficial attitudes they can offer us? Who knows what valuable friendships we can both give and receive as we invite them to blend into our lifestyle?

Should we be surprised if some newcomers bring with them a sense of anger at their need to relocate from their former much-loved community because it became unsafe for them to live there? Some will need time to realize that their decision to close one chapter of their life’s book also means they’ve opened a new chapter that might be more advantageous, more exciting and more fruitful. We can cautiously help newcomers find their way into fitting in without anyone losing either their or our uniqueness.

Because not all communities across our nation are experiencing the blessings of peace and quiet, law and order, and shared abundance that many small American towns help their citizens stay healthy and grounded, this migration may swell.

The following came across my desk this week and offers a warning to anyone inclined to pay attention:

“You know, I never cared that you were gay until you started shoving it down my throat, and I never cared what color your skin was until you started blaming me for your problems.

“I never cared about your political affiliation until you started condemning me for mine, and I really never even cared where you were born until you wanted to erase my history and blame my ancestors for your problems. You know, I never even cared if your beliefs were different from mine until you said my beliefs were wrong.

“But now I care. My patience and tolerance are gone, and I am not alone in feeling like this. There are millions of us who feel like this.”

So, be aware, newcomer, of destroying your welcome into safe, small-town America with attitudes of self-pity, superiority and demanded acceptance. We may be tolerant, but we will also protect ourselves from you, should it become necessary.

We certainly hope it won’t.


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