Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Problem of Big Cities

Many of us live in big cities: New York, LA, Boston, Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, etc. You name it. Having used to live in a smaller city like Ann Arbor has made me realize a fundamental difference in the way people live their lives. This may be an overgeneralization of the whole issue, but let's hope that we all get something from this insight that I have received.

In bigger cities, I think that people are separated by distance and pride. This is probably because people in bigger cities are more wealthy and self-sufficient. Or maybe, bigger cities tend to bring together people who are like that, I don't know. What I am familiar with, is how it becomes more difficult to get together because people are located across towns and cities; traffic has become a major turn off. I find it amazing that traffic shows a lot of our selfishness and ugliness. Think about the last time you turned down someone's invitation for lunch or dinner because it was too far away, or when you were annoyed at the slow moving traffic.

On the other hand, perhaps due to this distance, people are more unwilling to seek help. The more wealthy we are, the more we are capable of paying for services that otherwise we will have to ask for help from others. After all, that is a bother to others. If a payment is made, at least nobody owes anybody anything. It ends the relationship there. I will call this pride, because I think that it takes a lot of humility to ask for someone's help. The feeling of indebted to someone is not very nice, thus we don't mind as much being the helper as being the helped.

As a result of this self-sufficiency, there is a huge deal of privacy in one's life, because there are less people who are involved in our lives. I'm not talking about sharing our stress or daily activities, because I think it comes easier for girls to do that. It is when we ask our friends to help rent a U-Haul or move boxes across towns because we are moving, or help clean our house for spring cleaning. This requires more time commitment and energy from the other party. Plus, there is a the feeling of rejection is greater if someone says no.

People in the bigger cities are often more isolated and lonely. I think on top of the physical separation, the emotional separation is more of an issue. I think it is good to start asking for help from others, because others may be more willing to help than we previously thought. It also trains our humility, knowing that we don't have it all, and we need others in our lives more than we think we are needed by others.

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