We are by nature and genetically tribal creatures. A sense of community has always been important. In our urban and technological environment we have lost much of that. I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon and rarely see any of my neighbors. Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post wrote an article on the worst counties to live in the United States and Red Lake County in Minnesota topped the list. Then he actually visited the county and found that the residents were happy and still had that sense of community that is so important.
I drove up to the Red Lake County, Minn., courthouse not knowing exactly what to expect. This was, after all, the seat of the county that I had just a few days ago proclaimed, in a story, the "absolute worst place to live in America." Residents had been outraged. A county commissioner told the state's largest newspaper I could kiss his butt. Would I be arrested? Beat? Flogged with a hotdish?
But what greeted me instead last week was pure spectacle. A drum line from nearby Lafayette High School performed a routine on the courthouse steps. Officials and county residents, beaming and full of civic pride, lined up to shake my hand and welcome me to their home. And a gaggle of local press was there, cameras rolling, to cover it all.
Yes, in spite of the fact he had maligned their county they welcomed him. And what he found was a life changing experience for him. Something that he had not seen in the coastal East Coast, community.
It's a point of pride in the county that when residents need to get something done, they often simply do it themselves. Residents raised the funds to build Red Lake Falls' municipal swimming pool on their own, dollar-by-dollar. When the nearby town of Brooks needed a community center, businesses donated funds and residents volunteered time to build it by hand.
Over and over, the folks I spoke with told me it was that sense of community that kept them here, and that contributed to that enormous outpouring of civic pride in response to my original article. "There's lots of freedom here," Jason Brumwell said. "But everybody's still watching out for each other."
What Ingraham discovered was that "the worst county" in the United States was really one of the best. A sense of community is as necessary for we humans as food and water.