Reflection is a good thing. It allows you to see where you’ve been and hopefully chart a better course on where you’re going. While on vacation recently, I had a chance to think about the small community where I grew up.
Located in northwestern Kansas, Seguin was a small farm/ranch community of about 50 hearty souls. It was located in Sheridan County, three miles south of Highway 24 and the Union Pacific railroad used to run through the small town.
Seguin was a community where families were raised and values—good and sometimes bad—were instilled. Looking back, those fortunate enough to grow up there like I did in the ’50s and ’60s were surrounded by people with core values that helped guide us throughout our lives.
At the top of this list of virtues my community provided was spiritual in nature. A spiritual quality like, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things shall be given unto you.
We all grew up with Monsignor Mulvihill and the Sisters of St. Joseph, went to mass six days a week and learned to abide by the golden rule.
Next, was the courtesy level of our town. This was measured by the ordinary civilities a total stranger could expect. Residents of Seguin and the outlying community always welcomed family and friends back for special events—many centered around our church and its congregation.
Transient laborers, especially during wheat, milo and corn harvest, were also treated well because of their valuable contributions during these critical periods.
Rootedness or a sense of commitment on the part of a town’s people was another cornerstone in our little community. Dependent on the fertile, sandy loam soil of the High Plains, Seguin’s families lived by the unspoken agreement that this was a place to stay, put down roots and build a family, a farm, a business and a future.
This quality is closely related to a sense of place, which now grows rarer with each passing day.
Diversity—not necessarily in the form of many nationalities—but rather in the form of creative disagreement was another building block in our community. This meant our little town enjoyed a certain confidence that all of its inhabitants didn’t have to echo one another in order to make progress.
On the contrary, a community, like a country, can profit by its differences. Believe me, nearly everyone I ever knew in Seguin spoke up, voiced their opinions and let their ideas be heard.
Loyalty was the fifth attribute our community was blessed with. Loyalty is often confused with conformity, though the two are really opposites.
It is precisely loyalty to the community, to posterity and to principle that moves a citizen not to conform. A dissenter may never be so loyal as when refusing to go along quietly
Loyalty is a virtue, but not a simple one. Certainly, it is not as simple as those who use it as a club to enforce their will on an individual or a community.
Generosity was the sixth attribute and not just with material support but a generosity of spirit akin to humility. This broader, deeper attribute sets aside not only personal interests for the sake of community, but personal grudges, slights and obsessions.
One might call this trait charity, but charity in our society has acquired an unfortunate connotation of being optional—not obligatory. Some believe charity is what you do with what you have left over. Those who believe they owe a debt to their community and embrace the opportunity to repay it practice charity, the real thing.
Pride in our little burg was also clear. Self-respect may be a better word for this civic virtue. It must do with much more than clean streets, green lawns and painted buildings. It also explains good schools, honest law enforcement and other amenities that make for a proud, self-respecting community.
Openness was the final attribute in our small northwestern Kansas community. Without openness, these other virtues would only be a façade. Our community was an open book. Everyone knew everyone else and everything that was going on. Candor, candidness, frankness, sincerity and plain dealing were the only way of doing business and conducting each day of your life.
Everyone who lived in Seguin was a member of the community and part of our town. Didn’t matter who you were, where you lived, how old you were or whatever else. Our community was a place of human and humane values.
Sometimes in the rush of everyday life we forget to live by such values. Know your neighbors, coworkers and the members of your community. And, yes, it’s all right to argue with them and disagree with them about what is best for the community.
What is important is to care about your community. Think of its best interests and don’t let your mind be diverted by lesser concerns or scattered holdings.
Just like the little community I grew up in and the family and neighbors who helped shape who I am today, each of us live in communities that have values and fine traditions to uphold. Be part of yours.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.