Small town or big city, we're all one people: American.
When Lee Greenwood sang “God Bless the U.S.A,” he was talking about all of this land and all of its people – even the people we don’t think we’d have anything in common with.
Growing up in rural Oklahoma, I sometimes heard about how terrible Chicago and other big cities are.
High crime rates were some of the main drawbacks people talked about. Even more than that, people said that people in larger cities are less friendly than they are here in the Midwest.
I feel sorry for all the people who’ve had negative experiences with people in large cities, because I cannot relate to that. I returned from a short school-related trip Chicago a little more than a week ago, and I met quite a few friendly people along the way.
The people I met in Chicago, like all of us, are humans, too. They may think and act differently than we do, but we all breathe the same air. I had the pleasure of visiting with people of varied backgrounds – politically, religiously, ethnically, economically and occupationally – and walked away with not a bad thing to say about any of them.
While I was exploring downtown Chicago, I had the honor of talking with four Chicago police officers. Those guys have to be some of the toughest there are. They have endured terrible abuse while striving to maintain law and order, and they have gotten little support from the city’s leaders. They are truly heroes, serving selflessly to protect the lives of others.
I also got to visit with a few Muslim taxicab drivers. They talked about how grateful they are to live in America because it is the land of opportunity, where people can become successful if they work hard. They said this country is a place where dreams really can come true. One female cab driver talked about how, back in Bangladesh, women are not able to drive or have nearly as many freedoms as they do here in the states. Seeing their reverence for our nation should make us all appreciate this great country – the greatest in the world – even more. We take it for granted all too much.
Even though I was far from home, I met folks with ties back to the great state of Oklahoma. One woman I met while visiting a skyscraper hails from Alva and went to school with our university’s president. One of the bellhops at the hotel I was at has a brother in Elgin, Oklahoma. You can’t make this stuff up. As I’ve said before, we live in such a small world, and meeting these people reminds us how blessed we are to have relationships with others.
In all of my encounters, people were friendly and helpful whether they lived in Chicago or not. Strangers helped me find my way around the Windy City, and many people greeted others with a smile. Even though I’m a country boy, and always will be, I enjoyed myself there, and the people I met were just as nice as they could be anywhere else.
I did meet some people who weren’t as outgoing as others, and some people working in fast-food establishments weren’t all smiles. But that’s really no different from how it is here in America’s Heartland. The stereotype that all people in the Midwest are happy-go-lucky, warm individuals is not true, and neither is the idea that all people in big cities are miserable, hateful people.
Likewise, what we think about big cities and places we don’t live in is all too often informed by media sensationalism. While Chicago does have significant crime rates – truly heinous crimes, too – most of the city is not what you see on the evening news. The south side is definitely rough, but other parts of the city are beautiful, safe and worth visiting. I walked around downtown by myself a lot and didn’t face major safety issues. Granted, I would never advise people to walk around Chicago by themselves at night, but the same is true for Oklahoma City.
This world is filled with nearly 8 billion people, and we’re all made in the image of God. We’re all made to love and be loved, whether we live on a farm or in a high-rise apartment. Sometimes, we get too parochial and think that people who aren’t the same as us must not be good, but that’s just arrogance. Where we live on a map doesn’t have any effect on where our hearts are.
The next time you find yourself running down big-city people you don’t even know, remember that we’re all on this planet together. If we’ll open up our hearts to people who aren’t exactly like us, we just might find our hearts being filled with true, pure love. Perhaps we can even give the same love to others.
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