Our nation needs to do some soul-searching about how we got from Mayberry to “Jersey Shore.” Then we need to turn the car around and head back to the place where parents taught their kids manners and made them do their homework.
Some may say we shouldn’t idealize Mayberry because we shouldn’t want to live in a place that’s so white and so sheltered from the problems of the world. Agreed. But remember, the thing to emulate about Mayberry is not its demographics but its neighborliness.
Small towns may lack the diversity of ideas and cultures found in big cities but small towns reinforce good behavior in a way that big cities can’t. I lived in Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire before moving to Baraboo, and after living here a while I found I was a lot less inclined to, say, honk my horn at someone who cut me off while driving along Eighth Street. I knew if we happened to see each other, there was a fair chance the other driver would turn out to be someone I knew. Or I’d discover in the near future that he or she was the coach of my kid’s soccer team or something. Small town life taught me to think of strangers as potential friends.
Big cities provide the cover of anonymity that makes it easier for people to neglect or mistreat each other. In small towns most people try to get along. And that’s what you want — citizens who are in the habit of being neighborly.
And as for cultural diversity, nowadays you can have that in a small town too, because a new culture may come to you. I recently went back to visit a family friend in Perry, Iowa — a city of about 7,000 residents. It was very Mayberry-ish when I lived there as a child. Now 35 percent of its population is Hispanic. But because its older residents were in the habit of getting along together, they’re getting along with the new residents as well.
Mayberry represents the ideal community where nobody’s perfect but everybody’s aiming for the moral high road. It’s a place where everybody knows you and still cares about you anyway. And that’s what we all need.

Our nation needs to do some soul-searching about how we got from Mayberry to “Jersey Shore.” Then we need to turn the car around and head back to the place where parents taught their kids manners and made them do their homework.

Some may say we shouldn’t idealize Mayberry because we shouldn’t want to live in a place that’s so white and so sheltered from the problems of the world. Agreed. But remember, the thing to emulate about Mayberry is not its demographics but its neighborliness.

Small towns may lack the diversity of ideas and cultures found in big cities but small towns reinforce good behavior in a way that big cities can’t. I lived in Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire before moving to Baraboo, and after living here a while I found I was a lot less inclined to, say, honk my horn at someone who cut me off while driving along Eighth Street. I knew if we happened to see each other, there was a fair chance the other driver would turn out to be someone I knew. Or I’d discover in the near future that he or she was the coach of my kid’s soccer team or something. Small town life taught me to think of strangers as potential friends.

Big cities provide the cover of anonymity that makes it easier for people to neglect or mistreat each other. In small towns most people try to get along. And that’s what you want — citizens who are in the habit of being neighborly.

And as for cultural diversity, nowadays you can have that in a small town too, because a new culture may come to you. I recently went back to visit a family friend in Perry, Iowa — a city of about 7,000 residents. It was very Mayberry-ish when I lived there as a child. Now 35 percent of its population is Hispanic. But because its older residents were in the habit of getting along together, they’re getting along with the new residents as well.

Mayberry represents the ideal community where nobody’s perfect but everybody’s aiming for the moral high road. It’s a place where everybody knows you and still cares about you anyway. And that’s what we all need.