Tour Interlude: Pete Vordenberg’s Reflections

Pete shared some contemplative thoughts with me on this journey, and it is very much worth a read:

The attitude, environment, core beliefs of your community contribute greatly to the quality of your life. Not only quality as in how enjoyable and satisfying your life is but also which qualities are emphasized and developed. The world can be a hard and scary place or a magical and joyful one depending on your community’s collective sense of the world. And this can be shaped by many things. The experience of its members, both historically, in stories passed along, a long memory which can be literally etched in the dna. It can be influenced by geography, the physical environment, government, equality, the power structure one lives under.

All of these factors, and many more, form perceptions of how the world works. But, it is not simply the case that those that have faced hardship see the world as a scary place. For instance, one might assume a person who has fought through setback and struggle, through disadvantage and prejudice, may see the world as devoid of joy or possibility. In fact this is very often not the case. So what most influences the outlook, the beliefs of a group or community?

There is extensive research on what makes a person liberal or conservative – Haidt, Nail etc. Qualities that are sort of baked into the person. But, what sort of fails with that to me is that communities, not just individuals, often trend strongly conservative or liberal. Probably, it is the case that people exist along a range of belief/fear/love and other attitudes/traits/perceptions and the group pulls the individuals in one direction. So each person is still living on a continuum but it is now tilted either right or left along with the rest of the group.

But what makes the group tilt one way or another? I can understand why it tends collectively, so as to create cohesion among the group. But I don’t see why a group trends (heavily) in a particular direction. Why does it often tilt right in rural communities and left in urban ones? At least in the US?
Is rural life isn’t more frightening than urban life?

Perhaps it is the literal space. People in rural areas have more space in which to move. But does that carry through in Japan, India? Does density really create more liberal people? Maybe density impacts our social interactions. If you always are moving with hundreds of people your sense of personal space and way of being with others is different than if you have the sidewalk to yourself for blocks or even miles at a time. But does that dictate our political leanings? Something seems to be missing there.

Education? Do people with more school-education flock to more urban centers and does that sort of education simply pull the individual to a more liberal out look? There is more than one kind of education and so I won’t say more educated because a person raised working on a farm, but without a secondary school education still has a robust education. But perhaps not an education of diverse ideas.

Religion? Does it create, and reinforce homogeneity? Sure. But does it mimic the culture of the group or dictate it? Doesn’t the same base religion emphasize different aspects of the faith in different communities? And typically more liberal aspects when practiced in urban settings and more fundamental in rural more conservative settings?

Perhaps the most important aspect of this question is how does an individual impact change within the group?

Pete Vordenberg is a former US cross-country skiing Olympian and former head coach of the US Olympic cross country skiing program.

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