Where everyone knows your name

Do you share tools and work with your neighbors? Do you even know them? Resilient people and resilient communities do.  Really resilient communities are even more connected.  Many, if not most, community members grew up there.  They know each others’ parents. They know most of the families in their community.  A cohesive and supportive community is characteristic of resilient systems. This is true whether the system is natural or man-made, small or large.  In human communities, this quality is called bonding social capital. We recently visited a county in Mississippi which ranks high on resilience and bonding social capital.  To illustrate, here are some of the statements made by members of this community:

neshoba county fair

“I grew up in a neighboring county and I loved my home town, but there weren’t generations and generations that just stayed and stayed and stayed.  Of all my friends growing up, only one stayed.  Here is grandfathers, great grandfathers and uncles and aunts and everybody’s just still here.

“You can call a store downtown and they’ll pick out a gift for you and you just say charge it to me and they’ll just charge it.

“We have a lot of people who come back to Philadelphia. My husband has a group of friends that graduated from the local school together.  Eighty to ninety per cent came back.”

Many rural areas see their children leave for cities and not come back. Not Neshoba county.

“My children both came back. Why? They just love Neshoba County.

“People want to be around family; they don’t want to go off and not come back.

“We have businesses which have been here for years and years.  Williams Brothers for over 100 years, our furniture store has been here for 65 years. The drug store on square for almost that long.  Local people support local businesses. Generations of families have owned the same business.”

Neshoba County has a nationally known county fair known as Mississippi’s House party.  Extended families have built cabins at the fair site and take their vacations there.

“Neshoba County Fair is definitely a result and a testament to the longevity of family and friends.

“We’re different from other counties.  The Fair helps us stay connected and you want to pass it down to your children and your children’s children.

“My daughter moved to Connecticut as a nanny and was never coming back to Philadelphia, never working in the store. Now she’s back here, both children, husband and mother all working at the store.

“We have a lot of churches here, the community is really faith-based.  Faith and family.

“In other counties, people didn’t adapt to change. When one big industry shut down here, people were resilient and wanted to stay here.  If you get the mindset you’re gonna make it and gonna stay here and you’ll adapt and do other things.  If you have that desire to stay, you’ll find a way.

“If you can’t find a job in Neshoba County, you might live somewhere else for a while, but you’ll come back.  Your family might even stay here while you work somewhere else until you save enough to come back full-time.”

“My husband was from Neshoba County and he warned me Neshoba County will be different.  I didn’t believe it.  I thought it would be same as other counties.  Neshoba County is the same way it was 200 years ago.  Nothing has changed.  Nothing.

“When people meet you the first thing they say is, Now, who’s your mother? Who’s your family?”

“You can live here forever, but if your family wasn’t from here, you will never be from here.  They’ll always ask who are your kinfolk?  Who do you belong to?

“I’ve been here 24 years.  My last name is Lilley, but I can’t get it through that I’m not a Lillis.  There are a bunch of Lillises around here.  I got tired of it and just say: I’m from the Lillises up in the North part of the county.  Then they say: Oh yeah I knew them, now which one was your daddy?

“I started having fun with it. I started saying I’m a Harvey. They’d say never known any Harvey’s in Neshoba County.  I say there was one.  My husband’s mother married a Harvey.  He stayed long enough to conceive my husband.

“If you’re from the North, you’re still a Yankee.  A Yankee is one who comes from up North but comes and goes. Damn Yankee is a Yankee who comes and stays.”

The people who move to and contribute to Neshoba County are gradually accepted, though never seen as really from Neshoba County.  Yet, all the newcomers we talked to said they loved it and would never leave.  Some of their children have even moved to the county.

You can find all sorts of definitions of social capital in the sociology literature, but the above statements capture it best.  For most of our species’ history, we have lived in communities where we knew each other and each other’s families.  Communities high in resilience still have those strong bonds between local people.

Such bonds are not the only necessary quality for resilience. Resilient communities build on these ties to create local processing and marketing.  They innovate while maintaining their traditions. They accumulate resources and infrastructure and complementary diversity. They are capable of transformation when needed.  And they are integrated with their native ecological systems.

Nonetheless, the foundation for all of these qualities is the bonding and trust that community members have for each other. Maintained over generations, it all begins with a desire to work together with your neighbors.

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