Recently, a friend and I had a conversation about making our lives easier as we age. She mentioned leaving garbage from their weekend cottage at a nearby park and asked if it was okay. This sparked a discussion about the consequences of such actions, as rural municipalities often have to bear the cost of disposing of household trash left at parks and boat landings by cottagers. As a result, these municipalities sometimes remove all trash containers from these sites. Ultimately, we realized that my friend had a problem and needed a better solution but didn’t know who to ask.
This is a common situation, even in small towns and rural areas where everyone seems to know everyone. While there are plenty of people willing to share their opinions, the accuracy of their information is often questionable. Furthermore, when accurate information entails inconvenient, expensive, or embarrassing actions, people tend to delay or avoid seeking it. It’s natural to think that asking for forgiveness is simpler than asking for permission.
However, we can do better. Here are some tips on figuring out who you can reach out to in different situations and how to ask for help.
1. Municipal Clerks: Municipal clerks are like the Radar O’Reilly character from M*A*S*H in rural areas. They are the go-to resource for information about voting, local government, waste management, roads, property taxes, public safety, noise complaints, and more. Even if they don’t know the answer to your question, they know how to find out. They have connections in county governments and can navigate the bureaucracy to get the information you need. You can easily reach your municipal clerk by searching online using the name of your municipality or county and state.
2. Librarians: If municipal clerks are like Radar O’Reilly, librarians are like fairy godmothers. They possess a special gift for making any question seem less foolish. They can help you find the information you need, whether it’s about aging and disability resources, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, home health care, or any other topic. They excel at understanding your queries even when you can’t find the right words to articulate them. They can also guide you toward resources that will help you build your knowledge in areas like healthcare, home maintenance, or hobbies.
3. Local Wisdom: Some questions are best posed in institutions of collective wisdom, such as truck stops, diners, bait shops, or local gathering spots. These are the places where you’ll find people with deep knowledge of the community and connections to various services. They may not have all the answers, but they know who to ask. They can guide you in finding firewood, tree trimmers, or other local services. However, it’s important to verify the information they offer, especially when it comes to controversial topics or matters related to government agencies.
4. Social Media: Social media can also be a valuable resource, but it’s important to exercise caution and verify the information you receive. Many small towns and rural communities have Facebook groups where residents share recommendations and advice. Whether you’re looking for someone to perform household tasks or seeking recommendations for local businesses, these groups can provide helpful insights. However, keep in mind that negative reviews may be scarce because rural communities tend to maintain a sense of loyalty to their neighbors.
5. Pitfalls: It’s important to be mindful of the potential pitfalls when seeking information or advice. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that your perspective is the only valid one. However, everyone’s experiences and needs are unique, and it’s essential to respect and acknowledge those differences. It’s also important to remember that seeking second opinions or questioning responses is a prudent approach. People should feel comfortable asking questions without fearing judgment or backlash. Boundaries can be set if discussions turn into ideological rants, and individuals are responsible for their own choices.
Learning how to gather, assess, filter, and funnel information is a lifelong process. The topics and tools may change, but the need for accurate and reliable information remains constant. Help is always available, even if it requires a bit of effort to find or if it challenges our existing beliefs. In the case of my friend leaving garbage at the park, the best course of action was to contact the town clerk. Each township handles things differently, so the town clerk would provide accurate information about whether the trash receptacles were intended for cottagers’ use. Ultimately, seeking help and information not only solves individual problems but also enriches our communities through the connections and insights we gain from others.