This year we have each been invited to speak at regional professional conferences and events about this topic. It’s clear many rural professionals who encounter this urban mindset struggle to be identified (or see themselves) as equals.

Take this tweet responding to Diprose’s article:

Thank you! While I no longer work in a regional area, the idea that you are somehow lesser is something that permeated my entire career in a regional area and I still struggle with the idea that I didn’t ‘make it’ by not transitioning to a city journo position.

— Nadia Isa (@isa__nadia) November 10, 2019

And another:

This is the best thing I’ve read all year. I get pitying looks from people when I say I’ve worked in the region for nearly 9 years. My career progression here has been much better than if I were in a metro gig.

— Khama Gilchrist (@KhamaGilchrist) November 10, 2019

It’s also our personal observation in health care and higher education that geographical narcissism affects professional life by warping perceptions of time and distance. It always seems longer for city-based professionals to travel to the country to visit regional campuses and hospitals than for their regional colleagues to travel to the city.

Many rural workers will identify with the expectation that they travel both ways in a day to attend a meeting in the city. As for employees of the city office, they need a night’s accommodation and a little narcissistic praise for their intrepid travel to the country.

This lack of appreciation can also interfere with the effectiveness of well-meaning urban professionals who want to improve rural practice. An urban professional seeking to reorganize an area of rural practice may feel bewildered at the passive-aggressive behavior of their rural colleagues. As Fors observed, they are mistrusted as colonizers when they had expected to be welcomed as rescuers.

Stereotypes are internalized too

Rural professionals often laugh with recognition when hearing of geographic narcissism. But it’s confronting when they realize they themselves have internalized and ultimately reinforce the same stereotypes.

As Diprose experienced, many rural professionals will legitimize their skills to an urban colleague by listing their urban education and work credentials—as if these are the experiences that matter. This leads to a rural dialectic, where rural professionals hold the seemingly opposing views that rural work is, and is not, of high quality.

Juggling these polarized views can lead to unhelpful psychological compromises. One of these is to split elements of rural practice into good and bad. Of particular concern is the belief that an individual professional is of high quality, but the rest of the rural organization is not, so they must leave to progress their career.

There are, of course, social spaces and professional fields where geographical narcissism is not apparent. It’s less of problem when those who work and live regionally have their key economic, professional and social connections within one location. But when one competes with or is exposed to resources based at the “center”—so often in the big cities—you can’t miss it.

The rise of digital technology—with its promise to eradicate issues of distance—has perhaps exposed the prevalence and unspoken acceptance of geographical narcissism.

Rural and urban environments bring different challenges for working professionals. Good and bad practices can occur in both. But it is narcissistic to believe geography is a key determinant of quality.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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