Americans Are Watching To See How Nebraskans Resolve the Rural-Urban Split

“Black and white, rich and poor, young and old range themselves in opposite camps, and all the while in our own hearts, opposing forces clash.”

This quote from our spiritual past reemerges in New York Times columnist, David Brooks’, frightening essay about America’s division around race. His comments relate to Nebraska, in particular.

Brooks details the continuing rift between minorities and a large, angry group of Americans who feel that “we are losing our country…and we must fight back.” This thinking describes the fallout between citizens of Western and Eastern Nebraska.

Maybe, the core issue is not race, exactly, but fear and ‘otherness.’ Middle class blue-collar workers in the South and Midwest fear they will lose their jobs to minorities and that the classic ‘Ben Franklin’ version of the American Dream (“Work hard, improve yourself at every turn, keep hustling!”) will be lost like chaff in the wind.

Indeed, many long-time Americans have such fear that “our America” is being dismantled, they feel they must defend it at all costs. This happened recently inside Nebraska’s Unicameral. Distrust and sarcasm prevented constructive dialogue between representatives of the Western and Eastern ends of the state.

There is so much fear in Nebraska – and America - it is as if we are under a continual neurotoxin attack. This psychological terror and resentment stimulate adversarial rhetoric (“I’m right and you’re an idiot!”) and even a rebound of nationalism. Current politics also play a role in this cultural tragedy.

What is the real issue here? Is a racial reckoning the only way through this dark tunnel? If a small part of you says ‘yes,’ it’s time to learn how to speak differently about our future. This is when new words matter.

While interviewing Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin about her book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, talk show host Bill Maher may have hit the nail on the head with his quote:

“It’s not a state thing or a racial thing; it’s a city-versus-country thing…isn’t it?”

How to turn this conflict into a solution? Perhaps a single word can – like any powerful symbol - lead Nebraskans out of our poisonous cultural maze. Perhaps a new way of seeing ourselves can help us make the most of our rural-urban personality.


The combination word – “UrbaNatural” - blends two opposite words together into something fresh and optimistic. “Urban” implies dynamism and rapid movement. “Natural” implies organic, grounded, serene. These two qualities are highly complementary, even though they appear to be opposites.

By blending and balancing these contrasting qualities into a new word and new self-image (“This is really who we are.”), Nebraska can reconstitute itself into a balanced and efficient state that will ultimately help the entire USA put cynicism, fear and defensiveness aside.

UrbaNaturalism reminds us that Nebraska can exceed the sum of its urban-plus-natural parts. Every organization knows that people with opposite views must come together in order to realize the “fullness of their destiny.”

Yes, UrbaNaturalism brings both Nebraska’s urbanites and rural citizens together into one symbolic, semantic platform that celebrates the eclectic, heterogenous nature of our culture. When we adopt the long view – the civic view - fusion trumps fission.

In an optimized Nebraska, every worldview is valuable; there is no “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” mentality. Legislators embrace a broader, more strategic view of things. They will come to realize that UrbaNatural Nebraska is a well-integrated matrix, not two boxers going toe to toe in a bloody canvas ring.


When Nebraska’s urbanites and rural citizens see themselves as part of a larger whole, we will stop trying to define ourselves as “not them.”

We will begin this cultural cycle with our children who are less sensitive to otherness. As they collaborate playfully, they gently reset the template, focusing on, “How much can we get done cooperatively?”

The UrbaNatural way of being also emphasizes Mother Nature and “biophilia.” Research from Yale finally proves that we are happier and more productive when we have live plants around us – inside and outside. These ‘living systems’ balance us and help us be tolerant – all qualities of an UrbaNatural state or an UrbaNatural country.


UrbaNatural Nebraska can be transformed by UrbaNatural people – 18 to 34-year-olds who are well educated, knowledgeable about technology and deeply committed to genuine sustainability no matter what it costs. UrbaNatural Nebraskans understand that our state needs much more innovation and that diverse opinions are the catalyst, not a barrier.

UrbaNaturals have little patience with institutional bureaucracy and well-worn excuses. They take a critical look at everything.

These young, creative people will enable Nebraska to transcend opposites and stroll confidently through ‘friction zones’ where dreams collide with nightmares. UrbaNaturals will use elections to cast out civic leaders who gravitate to divisive, fear-driven rhetoric.

UrbaNaturals will use many conflict resolution tactics to resolve bitter misunderstandings. Instead of, “Why is that person scary?” they will ask, “Why are you viewing that person as scary?”

But the key issue is power. UrbaNaturals realize that true power is not external, but internal. Authentic power is built around empathy and reverence for life of all kinds. Authentic power is built around one’s soulful identity. Not even taxes are more important than that.


UrbaNaturals will rise above opposites to help Nebraskans pursue a higher, broader truth. The branches of a tree do not fight one another. Why? They realize they are part of one, much larger organism that is “taking care of each branch.”

Without recognition that opposites are but two sides of the same coin, Nebraska’s future is precarious. Our ability to compete for employers, high-demand workers and new investments is already slipping badly.

The entire USA is watching, hoping to see if Nebraska has stumbled upon the next iteration of the American Dream. One word will tell.

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