Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Minnesota Nice

This week was the annual conference for my field's primary organization NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). NCFR is headquartered here in Minneapolis, MN so the annual conference is held here every four years. The first NCFR conference I attended was four years ago in 2006 and was held here, in downtown Minneapolis. At the time, I had no idea I'd be living here the next time the conference was hosted in Minnesota. Over the past two years that I've been living here I've experienced & subsequently struggled with the phenomenon known as "Minnesota Nice." This term is worn as a badge of honor by Minnesotans. It is something they fully embrace and embody, as is evidenced by one of the signs in the Silent Auction room at the conference that read "It's Minnesota nice to bid on items." However, this is something that I have really struggled to "adjust" to.

During a small group discussion a couple weeks ago, one of my classmates, who is an out of state student, was talking about how difficult it is to make friends here. This resonated with my own experiences. Another student in the class (who is originally from Peru but has lived in Minnesota for 20 years or so) articulated "Minnesota Nice" as passive aggressiveness. It seems to me that, "Minnesota Nice" is just a socially acceptable or sanctioned form of passive aggressiveness. Now I do not believe this is the intent of "Minnesota Nice." I believe this term has derived as a way to categorize behavior that is situated in the Scandinavian/Norwegian culture or ways of being that have greatly influenced Minnesota culture. From my limited understanding of and experience with this culture, it seems that conflict and confrontation are avoided at all cost. The underlying assumption of this value is that conflict and confrontation are always negative. However, I would argue that conflict and confrontation are necessary components of life and it is important that individuals be able to constructively engage in conflict. Cultural values that discourage conflict and confrontation, constrain individual's ability to develop the skills necessary to engage in conflict in meaningful and constructive ways.

Regardless, these cultural values have profoundly shaped Minnesotan's understanding of and approaches to conflict. From my perspective, this behavioral adaptation has resulted in a form of "passive aggressiveness." It seems as though people here do not understand that it is possible to disagree with someone or confront someone in a respectful, constructive manner. Instead people avoid confrontation or confront people in a manner that appears passive aggressive. All of this comes across as fake or inauthentic. As a result, I've had difficulty trusting people here. Many people have asked me whether I plan to stay in the area after I graduate. And honestly, I don't know. I love the cities. I love that it doesn't have a "big city feel" but still has all the advantages of a city. There's just so much to do here: comedy shows, Broadway musicals, art museums, a variety of college and professional sports teams and so much more. However, being so far away from my family and close friends has been really difficult. There have been many times I've felt very isolated and alone here. The truth is, that regardless of how much I love it here, if I don't feel as though I have family here (whether "real" or fictive) by the time I graduate, I don't know that I can stay here and be happy. If I happen to find my life partner here, I will be very content to live the rest of my life in the Twin Cities. But I believe that life is about relationships. Its about people. And all the advantages of living in a city mean very little if you don't have special people in your life to share them with.

I believe that critically reflecting on this phenomenon, Minnesota Nice, and tracing (what I believe to be) its origin to cultural values has helped me to gain a better understanding of this behavior and ultimately reframe some of my experiences.

*Disclaimer* For the ease of describing my experiences I attributed this phenomenon to all Minnesotans. I realize this is unfair and do not believe this applies to all Minnesotans. I also do not mean to imply that this is a defining feature of Minnesota culture. It is simply a trend I have noticed throughout my experiences living here and something that I've struggled with over the past couple years.


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