Why do small towns produce such well-rounded, compassionate people?

People in small towns know people, who know people, who know people. This tight-knit network creates a solid, resilient web for raising children and fumbling through adulting.

At the recent netball grand finals in my little community of fewer than 1,200 people, the players were all adults but the crowd was a welcome mix of babies in prams, children with netballs, teenagers gossiping, young adults socialising, parents relaxing and seniors soaking it all in.

I was born and raised in this watchful and caring community. And, glancing around the courts, I saw the town rearing a new cohort of children. I watched a grandmother distract a child from a bumped nose after miscalculating how to catch a ball while the mother played. I heard a teenager behind me ask a child firmly but politely to stop playing with the rope cordoning off an area. I told a kid off for kicking a netball as hard as he could at the roof. We were all quietly moulding a new generation that wasn’t our offspring.

The gently woven web gives the kids in this town a safe space to learn and test the boundaries as they grow. Everybody pitches in by teaching them right from wrong when their parents aren’t around. Each of us listens to a child’s fears and cleans up their bumps and scrapes because we want our kids looked after in the same way.

No matter how far apart the points on the network are, they all connect. So, as these kids grow into young adults, they push the boundaries a little further, thinking it won’t get back to their immediate family. Each of us chooses if we can guide them without telling their parents. But, the second a line is crossed that needs parental guidance, the network consistently filters the information back to them.

And so, they grow into adults in a town where they’re safe and can learn without fear of being expelled from the community. The trust in these totally unwritten rules makes them balanced, forgiving humans. They make mistakes. They grow, and they learn. And they do all that whilst implicitly knowing they’ll be accepted for who they are and not what they do. 

Small towns would crumble without the glue of forgiveness because we all know each other way too well. That is why small towns produce well-rounded, compassionate people.

Bio: Emily Stretch is a grateful member of her small town, Kojonup.

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