How can people be so different from one another in different areas of the country or the world? I am not talking about how the people from France are different than the people of Germany. That is pretty clear. They speak different languages and have different customs based upon many factors. I am pondering why it is people who lives only one or two hundred miles from one another are so different in so many ways although they share many other commonalities.
Before I moved to my present place of living and work in southern Texas to a rural small town setting midway between Houston and San Antonio, I lived in northeast Texas for almost two decades. When we moved to where we live now, it was like stepping into a new century when we left behind the attitudes and mores that shaped our previous location. The attitudes of the inhabitants of what they call "East Texas" (although it is really Northeast Texas because those people who live just beyond Houston toward Orange also call their area "East Texas" but it is really Southeast Texas, but I digress...) are more similar to their neighbors across the state line in Louisiana or perhaps even more similar to those persons who live in what we call the Deep South rather than with their fellow Texans who live beyond I-45 going west. The common ideas that are shared by most of the population in East Texas are very conservative, despite what ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic factors they may have that could separate them. (I have heard it joked that I-45 is the dividing line and those who live east of it live "Behind the Pine Curtain". There is more truth than humor in that remark.)
I reflected upon this many times when I lived in East Texas but have thought about it even more after moving 230 miles southwest of my previous location. That 4 hour drive took me from 1900 to 2004 (the year I moved) in many ways that I had not considered when I decided to make the move. The county where we lived for 10 years had been "dry" from an alcohol point of view for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, Friday nights always had a continuous line of traffic heading east or south to the county line where persons could buy alcohol because not even beer could be sold in that county. The county seat has always been and still is one of the most segregated larger towns in Texas and perhaps the United States. There are definite economic and social factors that keep it segregated by race and ethnicity that are apparent if one drives around town much. Go in any direction from the courthouse and you can see which ethnic group is dominant by observing the houses in that area.
The social values of that larger small city are apparent too by reading the local newspaper or watching the local television stations. Stories that would be largely ignored in other places are big news in that area. One of my Facebook friends recently posted a story about one of those calendars sold to assist a local charity in which businessmen and city officials stripped to their swimsuits and posed in public places in order to sell calendars. Most people in the area laughed when the calendar appeared for sale in bookstores and businesses but one woman in the city became so upset that she resigned from the board of one of the other charities in town whose director posed in his swimsuit for the calendar. She wrote a scathing letter of resignation which was read in part on the evening news, omitting her name but using her words to highlight how upset she was to see the chairman of this charity with his shirt off for all to see. Some of the men who posed for the calendar were interviewed for the news and they all laughed at the reaction of this woman. She obviously does not like to see the chest of men in their 70s and 80s being displayed for all to see and could not stand to think that a charity she supported would be so bold to allow its leader to parade around for all to see. How rude!
In most cities where firemen or policemen or others show off their bodies on calendars, the physiques of the men being shown are far more attractive than those on this East Texas calendar in question. Perhaps that was her real gripe....if she was going to pay for a calendar to display on the inside of her bedroom closet door, then she wanted to see some real beefcake, not just older men parading around in their swimsuits. The name of the woman with the complaint was not given in the story, of course, but I imagine her to be like many women I encountered when I lived in that city, women with their hair styled the way it has been since 1940 with their pearl necklaces always embracing their necks, and their tasteful expensive dresses always pressed well so that they could have lunch at the country club daily without having to interact with the rest of society that they abhorred to have to live among. Or perhaps it may be their daughters whom they have fully entrenched with their values who may dress differently than they do but still follow the same customs and ideas that their mothers have passed down to them. They volunteer to serve on boards of charities because it makes them "nice, respectable people" but they look down upon anyone in society who may not fit into the cookie cutter mold of what they think society should look like.
So, why are they the way they are and why do their values continue to be the ones that define what life is like in that particular region? Blame it on religion, of course. Blame it on religious groups that continue to teach archaic fundamentalist views of society drawn from very limited examination of what the Scripture really says. Blame it on religious groups who have build huge edifices in which they gather each Sunday to hear their chosen leaders tell them how good and holy they are because they follow those limited views and teachings. Blame it on a segment of society that finds it safe to believe that limited view and believes that such belief will grant them power and control even if their view differs from the mainstream view of the society around them. Blame it on dogma that protects this limited view and thinks that it is what everyone else thinks even when it is apparent that they are far out of touch with reality.
After I moved from this town a decade ago, they did finally pass vote in a wet/dry election to let the population buy beer and wine in supermarkets so they no longer have to make the trek to the county line each weekend much to the displeasure of this same mentality in town. So, they have moved into the 1960s perhaps. Who knows what future date may bring them into the 21st century in other ways? Perhaps there will always be a segment of society that prefers to live in the way of the past. It may be much safer for them to live there than address the challenges of the present time with all the change it brings. I am just glad that I now live in a place where diversity is welcomed in many ways. It is not a perfect place to live but it is one where the welcome does not exclude those who are different in many ways. Even older men who want to mow the lawn without wearing a shirt do not cause the faint of heart to need the services of the emergency room. They just laugh as they drive by.....in a good hearted way.