The real value of diversity

I always thought leaving New York City would be good for me because when you live there, the push to get the best of everything is very strong. New Yorkers are maximizers, a term coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz for someone who is always thinking they can do better. These people are generally unhappy.

There’s a spectrum, for sure. But if maximizing were a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest in NYC everyone is in the 6-10 range. And the 6s think they’re really laid back. I wanted to be in the 1-5 range, where research shows that people lead much happier lives.

I knew I’d need to leave New York City to do that. In Madison, WI, I have to admit, I remained a maximizer. I got a lawyer from Chicago to sue the schools for their incredibly poor compliance with IDEA. I flew to LA for haircuts. I refused to stop flying American Airlines even though smaller, scrappy airlines had more flexible schedules out of Wisconsin.

But the truth is that you do become who you live with, and the maximizer is slowly being knocked out of me. Which has been my goal all along. Research shows that people are happier in rural towns than in cities, primarily because there is no way to be an maximizer. (I have argued before, many times, that people who live in cities don’t care about happiness, so it doesn’t matter that they are not happy.)

In the maximizer world, I live in the 1-5 range right now. Where I live I look like a crazy maximizer, because everyone here is a 1-5 and I’m a 5. When I visit my friends in New York City, I seem a little bit off.

The best way to see myself in relation to city people is to recall common conversations. Here are questions that city people ask me all the time:

1. Do you have real animals?
I could answer this question a million ways and the city person would get no information. For example, I can say, “yes, sheep, pigs, cows, chicken.” You don’t know how many. I could have 100,000 chickens and two lambs for example. Also, you don’t know what kind. I could have wool sheep or dairy sheep, I could have meat cows or dairy cows. So it’s a question that has no answer. I say yes.

2. Do the pigs smell bad?
This is always the followup question to the more general animal question. People want to talk about how bad the pigs smell. City people love talking about manure. They think it’s funny. It’s like Captain Underpants—The Adult Version. But if someone chooses to live on a pig farm, they are obviously not bothered by the pig smell. And probably, a pig farmer looks at pigs and things they’re cute:

So asking about the pig smell would be like me saying to a New Yorker: “Does the noise bother you?” Of course it doesn’t—they live in NYC.

3. How are the schools?
Bad. The answer is bad. Because a city person is not asking while placing their kids in one of those high schools with a 48% dropout rate. People ask this question while walking through their suburban sprawl kitchen into their media room. And the tax base they create with this house makes the tax base of a rural farm community seem like a third-world country. So, it’s true, the schools are not good. But there’s a price you pay no matter where you live. The corollary would be, “Do you live next door to Central Park?” No. Of course you don’t. You gave up living near nature in order to live in the inherent excitement of NYC in a place you can afford.

4. Do you want to go out for dinner?
No. That’s why I live in the country. There is nowhere to go that is as good as my house. And we grow our own food. And we eat at 5pm so don’t ask me at 5pm if I want to go out. Dinner is already made.

5. How many bedrooms?
This is the question that follows, “I got married and moved to the farmhouse with my kids.” A New Yorker thinks, “Upstate NYC with a dining room to serve 50 people plus the photographers from Country Living magazine to document it.” Newsflash: Real farm houses are small because they are heated with either gas, which is very expensive for a farm, or with wood, and no one wants to have to chop the wood for a fifteen room house.

I have found that the biggest cultural gap between rural life and city life has been the maximizer mindset. To a maximizer, a rural person looks stupid, or delusional. And to a rural person, the city person looks insecure and uptight. Both assessments are right, really. But I have found that it’s more interesting to try to understand both sides than criticize both sides.

It’s easy to criticize someone else for having no clue about diversity. It’s hard to really spend time understanding someone else’s situation in order to see the gaps between you and that person. Really understanding cultural diversity is really understanding the gaps. And in those gaps is where you gain a better understanding of yourself.

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  1. MPK
    MPK says:

    Judging from the title I thought this was about the diversity maybe diversity within schools in NYC compared to Madison. I miss that. At least in the community I belonged to. I like the maximizer theory, I think that’s true, that’s probably why I, personally, was happier when I lived in NYC twice, in Paris, London and mostly Amsterdam (which is more of a large town than a metropole). I’m more of a 7, 8, at times a 9. Living right outside the city, 20 car minutes from the shops, the theaters and restaurants, I find that that is actually already a bit far away when you still have young children and don’t (want to) have a nanny. I guess it also depends on how happy you were living in the city or the country when you grew up, whether you work from home or go to work. The Internet did close some of the gap for me.

  2. Anne-Sophie
    Anne-Sophie says:

    I grew up in a tiny village (1700) people, but was able to travel around the world from a very young age on. So, I knew my way around many world cities.
    I have always considered myself a very driven person, though my eating disorder stood in the way of living to my full potential for way too long.
    However, when I moved to Zurich, Switzerland (a tiny city compared to those I had visited all my life), I had to completely change my mindset about what driven means and how people really live in a city.
    I love it here and I have no desire to go back to the country for now. Maybe this’ll change when I have kids. But I would also never want to miss my childhood in the country.

  3. Joe Fusco
    Joe Fusco says:

    I moved to Vermont 17 years ago. There is no maximizer left — poof! I didn’t realize it until it was too late, but I’ve adjusted to being happy!

  4. S. Miller
    S. Miller says:

    Congratulations! I am glad that you are starting to realize the differences between your big city life and your farm life.

    I don’t think that your city friends want to know the number of animals you have because the thought of how you go about raising those animals has not entered their mind. They want to confirm that the animals in the children’s books actually exist. If you have animals that fall outside of the children’s books, mention those. For example, you might want to talk about your mule or donkey or whatever it was.

  5. Andrew Walker
    Andrew Walker says:

    Human beings have only been living in cities by an increasing proportion in the last 200 years or so as the industrial revolution changed the way people lived and work.
    We humans are very adaptable.
    Spiritually, socially and materially, the City is where I grew up but like you Penny, I lost the burden of a city by moving out of London and the job and the money.
    I am starting again and asking myself as a post punk, generation X rat race drop out, there must be more to life than working for the MAN?

  6. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    “I got a lawyer from Chicago to sue the schools for their incredibly poor compliance with IDEA.”

    And that’s one big reason why the schools are bad: precious resources are siphoned off from the general student body so the retards and autistic kids can have multiple aides doting on them the entire day. Then the schools are forced to do “inclusion” so when the “special needs” kids start acting up, the teaching for the entire class grinds to a halt while the outburst is quelled.

    It makes things even worse when some delusional parent, who thinks their child could just be NORMAL if only enough time and resources were lavished upon it, then strains the system further with petulant litigation and similar threats. Newsflash: your kid is substandard – accept it. I have actually seen potential lawsuits over parents who were furious that their Down Syndrome teen wasn’t let into French Class, when he should have just been taught how to mop a floor or bag groceries! There’s a reason why special needs teachers typically burn out within three years – it’s not the children – it’s their insane, insecure parents who think the teachers are failing to “make their children normal.”

    Meanwhile the gifted kids, who will actually amount to something and contribute to society, are left to their own devices.

    Bring back the institutions. You want special care? That’s the place for it.

    • Mara
      Mara says:

      Wow, you’re a real piece of work. You obviously don’t have a child who has struggled to learn within the cookie-cutter educational establishment.

    • denise
      denise says:

      While we could have a reasonable discussion about allocation of public school resources, clearly someone who speaks of children as “retards” and “substandard” must be beyond reason.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The issue is that whether or not you think IDEA is a good law. It’s the law, so until someone changes it, schools have to follow it.

      It’s like abortion. You can debate if the laws are good or not, but in the meantime, you have to give access to abortion because it’s a the law.


    • Denys Yeo
      Denys Yeo says:

      There are many people who believe that inclusive education does not work – but then there are many people who know that it does work (including me as a practitioner in this area); regardless of who is right, my view it that inclusive education is the “right thing to do”, not only educationally but also ethically and morally. The right question here is how can we make it work better? not – why it doesn’t it work!

      • Kristi
        Kristi says:

        Right on. I was a job coach for a while for adults with disabilities. I think that supported, inclusive employment has similar challenges and benefits. It’s underfunded, needs expert support (difficult without funding) to meet its potential, but ultimately benefits everyone.

      • chris
        chris says:

        I would like to contact you about job coaching for individuals with disabilities, off-blog, if you would be willing to talk with me.
        Chris Keller

      • Kristi
        Kristi says:

        @Chris Keller Sure. I’ve added my website, so if you click my name, you’ll get to my page. There’s a button there for emailing me.

  7. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    Said another way, in parlance that is in your terms and thus more likely to be palatable: don’t try to “maximize” your child.

    • Davers6
      Davers6 says:

      @ meister … Agree with you 100%, but the estrogen-bathed politically correct society we now live in will crucify you for speaking YOUR truth to THEIR power. The manosphere has been shot down, destroyed and replaced by the Sisterhood of the Traveling New Age Koombyahood and we are the elderly orphans they ahve cast adrift on icebergs, die for our heretical thoughts.

      Well said meister … don’t let the ladies grind you down; they’re VERY POOR losers, ESPECIALLY when they know deep down inside that you are right and they have been crushed by the pressure to conform.

      • Tamar
        Tamar says:

        @Danvers and Meister: What on earth are you doing here? If you’re not trolls, maybe masochists? Or eager to revisit your perspectives and values by way of learning from those that are different? That path, to me, would be a good idea.

  8. Scheherazade
    Scheherazade says:

    I think this is the best post I’ve ever read of yours. Your intelligence and genuine curiosity come through in a way that isn’t marred by drama or any unnecessary attempts to be ultra-provocative. In the quiet that’s left, I can appreciate your insight and your very thoughtful observations.

    I admire you for the persistent way you think about and try to understand the world around you, and for the clarity of your writing; posts like this are why I keep coming back. Thanks.

    P.S. What about those of us who live in small towns?

  9. Martha
    Martha says:

    You nailed it. This lack of understanding also goes a long way to explain the political divide of the country.

  10. Kathryn C
    Kathryn C says:

    People who don’t spend the time to figure out other peoples’ situations are selfish, which, is ok, I just don’t want to be friends with them.

    They are everywhere, city and rural. It’s part of their personality (unless they want to change it.)

    I know people who live in NY and also people who live in the country –some take the time to understand other people, some don’t.

    Where they live isn’t the issue, it’s their mindset, and really as you say, how much time they focus on themselves, vs understanding others.

  11. chris
    chris says:

    So the two ends of the continuum are Maximizer and, what?, Simplifier?

    I, too, grew up the big city–Chicago. I have ended up in the Kettle Moraine Forest south and west of Milwaukee. In a “small” village (the school system is large, however).

    We have 2 very nice coffee shops. We have the chain stores, too, including a Wal Mart and Home Depot.
    Our downtown has suffered because of Wal Mart. We have a nice, newly expanded library, and we are part of a central library system. There are 3 or 4 banks and 3 or 4 gas stations. There are 2 Chinese restaurants! And a “Boneyard” for wings. I see Sandhill cranes daily, and Great Blue herons. There is a large marsh with a fen within walking distance. There are many kinds of hawks and turkey vultures. The trails in the Kettle Moraine are wonderful for hiking and x-country skiing. Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor historical society museum, is nearby. These are exactly the amenities that I want.

    I was sad when we got our street re-paved including sidewalks and curbs/gutters. Some trees went down in order to accomplish this.

    I think we are on the unsophisticated side. Maybe the city-folk would call us “hicks” or “rednecks”. But I see that there are a lot of folks who support/use the library. There is a book club at the library . . . And there is a theater group, The Village Players. I think you can be what you want to be, no matter where you live.

    Your children may move away, reactionary, and then come back. Or they may move a short distance and put themselves somewhere in the middle range of the continuum, between Maximizer and Simplifier.

    I have a couple of kids who are Maximizers and a couple of kids who are Simplifiers.
    The foundation that they got here in this small town is from their mom/family, more than from their schools. I am a lifelong learner and altruistic. We didn’t have much money–and that was really quite good for them in their formative years, I believe. I think it made them into survivors. They can surely go from this foundation to wherever they want to go.

    Seems to me that “the push to get the best of everything” could work against you–make you driven, or selfish, or perfectionistic.
    Garrison Keillor talks about “pretty good”.
    I think about improving, little by little, rather than arriving. I am happier embracing the latter rather than the former values–I DID embrace perfectionism earlier in my life . . . so I can compare.

    One thing Penelope did not talk about was the pace of living: the rush-rush and the multi-tasking ethic. I am very glad to be away from that type of drivenness. I never did want a full appointment book, with 3 or 4 major appointments/day. It made me rabbity with my mind constantly trying to transition from work to meal-prep to slowing down to play with my children or read to them; and then jumping back to some other kind of pressure.

    City friends might say I am lazy. I feel I have paced myself reasonably. Big city friends might ask me about being productive/feeling productive, and I would praise how well I have learned to put one foot in front of the other, taking baby steps and proud of it.

    But do I have anything to show at the end of the day? Yes. I made a good meal or two and helped my son with his homework or Tae Kwon Do. The kitchen counters are uncluttered, too, except for a new recipe taped to the cabinet door. Tomorrow, I’ll get the ingredients I need and get creative.

  12. Pat
    Pat says:

    Very much enjoyed the post and the comments. It’s a great and insightful post and brought out several penetrating comments.

  13. Sally
    Sally says:

    Maximiser is a great term. I have spent last six weeks minimizing – adjusting to life stepping off the big corporate roller coaster into gardening leave and the bliss of discovering that sleep is an activity in itself which really does all the things they say in the magazines…like keep you healthy, sane and slimmer. Who knew?

  14. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Wow. Thanks P. for this post. It clarified for myself why I am so obsessed with the working mom/stay at home mom discussion. I have always thought that the most competitive endeavor in the world is being a mother. And after reading this post I think I know why, being a mother means you become a maximizer both with decisions regarding your children, and the decision you made to even have children at all.

  15. fred doe
    fred doe says:

    wow! the old city mouse and country mouse? there might be a story there? you missed the third rodent? us suburban rats. we smile at you both. we have the best of both worlds with out the aggravation. and guess what? we’re the majority. we support you both. and p.s. there are no maximizers in new york only lemmings.

    • Martha
      Martha says:

      Suburbia is a legit third option and I’m glad it suits you. By the time I was 30, I discovered that I needed to either live in the city or live in the country. Suburbia, to me, was luke-warm, neither hot nor cold. I spit it out of my mouth. In fact, we are moving another 30 miles out into the country since suburbia is now encroaching our country home.

  16. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Your post reminds me of a conversation I often had with my ex-husband. During our arguments, he would often remind me that he “saved me” from a life down on the bayou, probably living in a trailer, marrying an oil-field worker or a shrimper and wearing those funny white shrimp boots. My response was always that I had an equal chance of being blissfully happy or just as miserable in that lifestyle. It all boils down to the company that you keep and your ability to adapt and make the best of things. Whatever anyone else thinks about your home life, Penelope, you seem to be making the best out of your own current situation. Kudos to you on that!

  17. Dave
    Dave says:

    What do you call a person who seeks to “make” (vs get) the best of everything? An optimizer? The idea that you can get “the best” is such a fallacy–it’s never really all you thought it would be and it’s somebody else’s best anyway. I think most growth and learning happens in the transitions which are more likely to happen when people are not so invested in preserving the status quo as a validation of their choices.

  18. Kayla Cruz
    Kayla Cruz says:

    I’m definitely a maximizer. I just recently came to terms with that. I always want the best. So does that mean I’m screwed for life? I’ll really never be happy? But if I choose to be less maximizer-ish doesn’t that mean I’ll be settling? Seems like a lose-lose situation to me. -____-

  19. Gene Bodzin
    Gene Bodzin says:

    I grew up in Detroit when it was still a thriving city, then went to a variety of universities in progressively smaller towns, and eventually lived in Madison for six years. A few years later I spent six years raising animals on a farm, so I am familiar with all of what you are talking about. Although I now again live in a major city (Ottawa), I am still attracted to many aspects of rural life, including the opportunities it offers to get off the grid — away from the traffic, the shopping, the constant rush, the feeling that everything everybody is doing is so important — and to stay in touch with oneself without having to decide between 77 restaurants and a dozen movies. Thanks for your thoughtful and balanced piece, which doesn’t try to sugar-coat any living environment. And thanks for the reminder that life is still a matter of choices, that even when they lead to Eden it’s only for a moment.

  20. Tim Dunn
    Tim Dunn says:

    i recently moved to Madison from a larger city. It has a really interesting vibe, and I think your read on the maximizer mindset vs. rural mindset is right on. Thanks for the good work

  21. Dee Dee
    Dee Dee says:

    I always try to tell my friends that sometimes, offering our kids too many options, is just a bad idea.

    Remember being a kid and just being allowed to ‘be’? Well, that often doesn’t happen in places like NYC because we’re so busy over-protecting and over-scheduling everything our kids do that we end up being just as stressed as they must be!

    Slowing down shouldn’t be such a ‘dirty’ idea! It should be celebrated, at least sometimes.

    • dea bradbury
      dea bradbury says:

      I grew up in NYC – Brooklyn. It was a few years ago, about 50 I think. But I distinctly remember that I was allowed to be “me.” Times were different of course, and I could travel by bus or subway by myself at age 10 without fear. The neighood had many friends and you didn’t have to go far to find a playmate. We would go to NJ for the summer at Lake Hopatcong and upstate NY to our house there, and be “in the country.” I still love the country. And I still can’t stand being in a city any longer than a day at the museums or the Village. It’s all what you make it as someone in a post said.

  22. linda Clark
    linda Clark says:

    i really appreciate your thinking and find your total honesty refreshing, penelope. i lived in rural utah, teaching in the local high school. the district accountant told me the rural districts received most of their money from the state equalization funds. rural property taxes are lower to encourage agriculture. the rural students were amazingly intelligent and they could do ANYTHING. we created a journal wherein students printed interviews they had conducted of several old people. those journals sold out quilckly. have you considered volunteering in your local school. your contribution would be awesome!

  23. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Rural people also tend to be more overweight than city people. Sort of “physical maximizers.”

    I wonder why. Maybe they don’t eat the veggies they grow? Or they’re too busy to eat right? Or they have to drive everywhere?

    Also, truly creative, original thinkers don’t come from urban, executive private schools. Urban rich kids become lawyers, doctors, and business people — kind of dull but rich. Minimizer schools allow kids who are naturally creative to be creative. They’re not hemmed in by status, and they crave reaching out beyond their small world.

    • Justine
      Justine says:

      “Also, truly creative, original thinkers don’t come from urban, executive private schools. Urban rich kids become lawyers, doctors, and business people – kind of dull but rich. Minimizer schools allow kids who are naturally creative to be creative. They’re not hemmed in by status, and they crave reaching out beyond their small world.”

      Yes, I used to think this too. But now I suspect we all deal with conforming to our surroundings whether urban or rural. So yes, the urban kids have to develop some critical thinking skills about status and perhaps rural kids need to develop discernment regarding lack of variety in opinions/lifestyles. It’s easier for urban kids to be different than it is for rural kids, but it is easier for rural kids to find their authentic selves because of lack of outside influence. I guess it’s a wash. Really, though, either way I think it mostly depends on the parents bringing them up open to new ideas and experiences and P’s kids will be fine no matter.

  24. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    The title reminds me (living in Montana) of my aunt in California who remarked that we don’t have much diversity up here.
    I answered that we have a lot of it. We meet people who are Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cree, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Salish, Kalispel, and Kootenai, none of whom live near her home in Modesto. We also have quite a few more French, Slovenians, Serbs, Finns, and Norwegians than she would meet in Modesto.
    The rural states offer more diversity than most city people think.
    (Note that I didn’t say “Indians” or “Native Americans.” Only a person who doesn’t know or care what tribe someone belongs to would use the all-inclusive term, and that shows a lack of respect. Each tribe has its own history and culture.)

    • Mark Wiehenstroer
      Mark Wiehenstroer says:

      Absolutely. The awareness of diversity (race, religion, economic, etc.) around us does show respect. Take the time and effort to look around and you will find diversity.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s really interesting about Native American. How it reflects a lack of interest in the individual tribes. I like learning stuff like this. I like that I’m a little smarter, so next time I meet someone who is actually from a tribe, I will be better at asking questions to understand more.

      That’s really all we can hope for, I think: always honing our questions.


    • Marc
      Marc says:

      A fair point, but unnecessarily self-righteous, I think. Native Americans, vis-a-vis the rest of the world, have significant commonalities. Is it equally disrespectful to refer broadly to “Europeans,” because to do so ignores the significant cultural differences between Greeks and Germans? Easy to get so bogged down in politeness that we can’t have conversation these days.

  25. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    My Aunt, who lived on a hog farm, had a great answer to the “do pigs smell” question.

    Her answer – they smell like money to me.

  26. Davers6
    Davers6 says:

    This may be the first thing you’ve written in the past year that I’ve agreed with 100%. WELL DONE – you nailed it!!!

    All my life was spent in big cities (Toronto; New York; Tokyo; Atlanta; Chicago) and finally cashed out in 2005 to a small city of 120,000 ‘in the country’ on a BIG lake, and have never felt better or more destressed … highly recommend it to everybody, ESPECIALLY burned out maximizers!

  27. Andi
    Andi says:

    My husband is the country mouse who brought peace and quiet, friendliness and small daily joys, to this very impatient and ever-angry city rat. I’m so grateful I married a “red neck” because I’ve learned how to be a better me, more calm and understanding.

    *BUT* having said all that… I should also mention the trade-offs. We live in a tiny 6-street village that is all white, so my half-Hispanic son sticks out like a Taco Bell down in Mexico. His first year here was rough — lots of hazing and bullying. His obnoxious mother, however, put a stop to that with her message sent out to ever school board member, every PTO member, every secretary & administrative staff member, every teacher, the town mayor & related staff, and the big city newspaper. Things got really nice after that, because you don’t screw around with racism on a public level even out in the country, I guess.

    I would sure like to see more diversity out here in the cornfields of America. Then parents would have to re-think what they teach their kids about minorities.

  28. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I’m really enjoying thinking about the “maximizers” versus “satisficers”. On the scale I fit somewhere in the middle. Since I have lived my whole life in the DC suburbs, it would seem I live among maximizers. But honestly more so than city versus country (or suburb) I think it is people who move around a lot versus people who stay put. I have lived my whole childhood on one side of the beltway and my whole adulthood on the other side. And the differences I see, are the people who more here, work really hard for a few years, buy a big house, hope it goes up in value, and then move away. And then there are those folks who have always lived here, and are the plumbers and electricians and hairdressers and auto mechanics, and they are more on the satisficers end of the spectrum.

    I have never lived in New York, but I would imagine you could find similarities, depending on what neighborhood you live in. The neighborhoods where families have lived for generations will tend to be satisficers. While the neighborhoods that are highly transient will house the maximizers.

  29. Davers6
    Davers6 says:

    By the way, Penelope, your observations in this “Best Post of The Year” (so far) apply GLOBALLY not just in America/Canada. The people who make Tokyo, London, Sydney, Rio and Hong Kong ‘tick’ are driven by the SAME “maximizer” motivation as New Yorkers … and the folks in Japan, Brazil, rural UK, etc are just like those around you in small town / rural Wisconsin.

    The “differences” I encountered and had to ‘manage’ in my (global marketing) career were not differences of ethnicity / culture / language, they were differences of “big ciy maximizers” versus “small town / rural satisfiers”. A New Yorker could relocate and quickly adapt to Hong Kong or Rio MUCH easier than to Fremont, NB, Rome, Georgia, or Kaukana, WI.

    Congratulations on successfully making that very challenging transition … and sincere thanks for leaving “the drama” parked in privacy rather than out here to publically discredit such wonderful observations as THIS most recent post. Please try very hard to keep it up – crazy (in ANY form, in ANYONE) ain’t cute.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This comment really resonates with me. I have remarked many times that I’ve lived all over – NYC, LA, Londin, Paris, Jerusalem. None of those places has come anywhere close to the culture shock of living in rural Wisconsin.

      In fact my only other experience with such extreme culture shock was when I was living in France, on a farm. Now I undrstand the shock was from rural life, not French life per se.


  30. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    When we look in the “gaps” between ourselves and others and learn to talk about the differences, we can also figure out how more about how to work together in ways that play to our strengths. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book _Outliers_: talking openly about cultural differences so that we can better help people succeed. But it can be scary to take a chance of coming across as disrespectful or ignorant.

    I’m reminded of the “shit [people] say” videos. The best of them are funny without being demeaning. My favorite comedy tends to involve people noticing those differences and laughing at themselves.

    If we can combine curiosity about others with not taking ourselves too seriously, people can get to know each other. You don’t start out automatically knowing how to best show respect towards people when you’re ignorant about them.

  31. chris
    chris says:

    This is from The Healthy Back Institute:
    . . . there are very real mental health risks associated with living in urban areas compared to rural America.

    It comes down to a distinct difference in brain structure between city dwellers and country folks. Researchers came to that conclusion after scanning the brains of 32 German students bombarded with negative feedback they heard via headphones while completing a series of math tests.
    The Sounds of Failure

    The social stress of hearing the "sounds of failure," researchers say, activated different parts of the patients' brains. Interestingly, two regions – the amygdala (emotion-processing) and cingulate cortex (negative-emotions generator) – were activated specifically or more strongly in the brains of patients living in the big city.

    In fact, the relationship between those portions of the brain and geography was so distinct, scientists conducted a second experiment on 23 more patients, adding negative visuals to the mix just to be sure – The link between brain activation and geography remained the same in the second group.

  32. chris
    chris says:

    It also seems to me that the shift from maximizer mindset to a mindset of simplicity could have a developmental component. That is, maximizers may more often be the young, the just-starting-out, who need to advance, to climb, to push, to reach. They have something to prove.

    And later on, one takes a step back, to get away from the madding crowd, to choose a few important goals out of the many you had when you were “fresh”. You know you cannot accomplish everything. You know your limits better. You simplify your life by purging away your excesses (goals, possessions, etc). The challenges you take on are more personal and less showy. You are not willing to tap-dance so fast . . . slowing down looks good.

    I have understood developmental phases in kids, but adults have developmental stages as well. And as I said above, I think “maximizer” and “simplifier” may be apt descriptions for earlier and later stages.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      I think you are right Chris.

      And apparently the other end of the spectrum from maxizer is satisficer, a word invented to be a combination of satisfed and suffice.

  33. Abby
    Abby says:

    Hard to convince a teenager that the quiet country life is best. I grew up in a small town and we were crazy to maximize. Lots of drinking and driving to the nearest city just to speed it all up a bit. I wonder how the rural dream will look to you with older kids?

  34. awiz8
    awiz8 says:

    Penelope is wrong. The real value of diversity is that people like my parents, aunts, and uncles aren’t imprisoned like criminals, just because of what they looked like, or what their ethnic background was, like Executive Order 9066 did, 70 years ago.

  35. chris
    chris says:

    Any of us who have read Penelope for any length of time know that she is responsive to what is interesting. This implies curiosity and openness to what is new.

    Openness to what is new implies a lack of fear of change. This is her brazenness–that she is not afraid of change. She is open.

    On the other hand, there are those of us who, like the mechanisms that form the Canary Islands, have underground volcanoes in our personalities. There is a bubbling up of hostility. Many things can trigger the roiling and broiling. “Attack” and “defend” are our values. Openness, not so much.

    Time to ask ourselves who we are: curious, open folk or attacker/defenders. The former will understand the meaning/value of diversity wherever we find it; the latter will push back against change and diversity.

  36. Marie Rotter
    Marie Rotter says:

    I like your ideas here but I think you’re looking through too narrow of a lense. 1. Happiness is a choice. If you’re always choosing to look at the negatives or overanalyze the positives because you’re waiting for a negative to show up, then you’ll always be unhappy. Happiness has little to do with where you live. It all comes down to love and relationships. You can argue all day about city vs. country life but if you’re kids weren’t with you, you’d be miserable no matter where you lived. That’s because relationships are what matters. If you read that paper again, that’s what the researchers are also saying.

  37. Dean
    Dean says:

    Nancy commented that rural people are heavier than city people. The reason for this, I believe to be their two different outlooks on life and not their eating and exercise habits. My wife and I eat the same food and about the same amounts. We do most things together, so we get similar exercise. I am a minimizer raised in a small town and am overweight; she is a maximizer raised in a large city and is very thin. I tend to be laid back, not worry about things and retain weight. She worries about too many things, is full of nervous energy and burns it off.

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