Those Good Ol’ Boys

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. Jane Howard

That the good ol’ boy network is alive and well in rural communities should be no surprise to anyone. Nor should it surprise anyone that breaking into that network is going to be hard for outsiders – an outsider being anyone whose family has lived in the community for at least 3 generations. And frankly, in most small towns there are multiple networks and most consist of dedicated competent people – the days of the rural good ol’ boy network simply being a system used by the incompetent in an attempt to retain social position and power are, for the most part, past.

Seen from the eyes of this male outsider, there are a few ground rules one must know before the doors of any one particular network will begin to crack open. They are:

  • Be polite, be very polite. This is beyond the common courtesies of please and thank you, this is about addressing people you don’t know well as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, about hand written thank you notes, about using sir or ma’am when addressing your elders or those who hold some position of authority. Channel your inner gentle-person; regardless of how modern the town is in terms of infrastructure, you’ll find that the attitudes and social expectations are much more Leave It to Beaver then The Simpsons.
  • Learn the fine art of fence post leaning in all its applications. There is an art to asking for a favor in a rural community and while each community has its own variation on the particular steps of the dance, there are some common steps. The general idea is that when farmer A asks a favor from farmer B, A would walk over to where B is plowing and lean against a fence post and wait for B to finish his current trip around the field. A and B would then chat – about the weather, how their families are doing, how the crops/livestock are fairing, etc. Eventually the conversation would come around to the favor. Even then, the request may not be phrased as a “say, could you do me a favor” – it may be more along the lines of “say, how would you do…” or  “what do you think I should do about…”. Both A & B know that A needs a favor, but the dance requires that A take the time to connect on a social level before coming to the business at hand.
  • Be competent and honor your word. Small communities expect and respect competence – to be knows as “someone who’ll do right by you” is a high accolade – and most still operate on a handshake. Nothing will cut you out of the ol’ boy network faster than a reputation of failing to live up to your word.
  • Be a follower before being a leader – you are the novice in this game and don’t know the “whys” behind the way things are done – so don’t automatically assume that your “new” or “better” is actually an improvement. Take the time to put in your dues – these networks are built on trust and it is hard to trust the unknown.

Oh, and please don’t assume that the ol’ boy network is still limited to boys – many also include women nowadays. The ol’ boys are recognizing that competence crosses gender lines.