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Truth lurks behind the scenes

Truth lurks behind the scenes Truth lurks behind the scenes

Often we have to look below the surface of an event to really understand what is going on.
Drive through a new subdivision these days and the houses utilize the same architecture, paint and even mailboxes. How do we get to know the different people who raise their kids, eat their meals and learn their lessons within the walls of such buildings? The fronts of the homes reveal little about the residents.
The first thing I want to do when touring a house is to scout the basement. Maybe I am just plain nosy, but I think this is where the clues to a building’s use, structure and condition lie. Rotted wood is a giveaway to water damage or insect infestation. Cracks tend to reveal a shifting of the earth and walls. A past fire is quickly detected by black marks. And the presence of mold cries out ‘damp basement.’ Maybe this is why hopeful sellers want to emphasize the new decorations on the first floor or the recent remodel of the kitchen rather than the basement.
Want to learn about a city? Drive the alleys. Backyards reveal the residents’ interests: pets, old cars, gardens, play houses, junk, barbecue grills and basketball goals. You don’t have to study boring statistics to pick up on the age, attitudes and activities of those who call the place home.
The alleys in the commercial districts lay bare the public amenities provided for those doing business and the efficiency and effectiveness of city ordinances. The service areas provide a better indication of the management of a city government than any political ad ever will.
Country back roads often give clues as to what a community thinks is important. Abandoned trash bags around a sinkhole in the ground gives us an honest view of what people really think of their role as stewards of the earth. Look at the condition of old barns and we can discover the local attitude toward its heritage. Cultivated productive fields indicate fertile soil and prosperous farmers. We can even get clues about political hot topics from cow lots and windmills.
Small towns read like a book. Empty downtowns on Main Street and economically vibrant commercial districts on interstate exchanges are very vivid reminders of changing times and the driving force of developers rather than local citizens. We understand the dynamics playing out in the large cities when we see the conditions in the small towns many people have left. These same small towns help us appraise what we as individuals want in the future; they can give us a glimpse of what a town had to offer families in the past.
Don and I are planning a train trip through the western part of the United States. Trains divert from the trodden path and are often routed through the backyards of the towns and countrysides. What a thrill to travel a path in the woods or on the causeway that traverses a lake. I like to see the working sections of manufacturing plants and the wetlands filled with migratory birds, places I don’t often have an opportunity to visit.
I suppose my fascination with the behind the scenes of our front yards and the publicly active venues is that they give me a better understanding of how a complex society operates. The advertising gurus, the landscapers, city planners and architects have spruced up what is regularly presented to the public. Home builders and subdivision developers know that using standard architectural plans and materials turns out a less difficult and less expensive home. But this need for economy of scale neglects to express the nature of the inhabitants. I often worry that sticking to the current accepted ‘in style’ in everything from clothing to restaurants to living locations takes away some of the individual creativeness in people. We are not all the same. We bring different backgrounds and histories to the mix of life, which has given us different beliefs, interests and talents.
I must admit that I make sure the snow is removed from my front sidewalk before I tackle the back walks. It makes me feel better about myself when I rationalize that I do this for the benefit of my neighbors rather than just trying to appear tidier than I really am.
In a way, putting out a good public relations message is propaganda. Right now, Vladimir Putin is trying to present a Russia that is economically strong and internationally respected. He is trying to convince his Russian citizens as well as those in distant countries that he is a strong and well-meaning leader. The Olympics in Sochi were an attempt to give the appearance of a highly developed, beautiful and peaceful Russia. Meanwhile, military advancements were being made to take over Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Maybe we should look into his backyard and beyond his propaganda to see his true colors. Things are rarely as they appear to be at first glance. Russia’s history as an imperialistic country seems to be lurking in the shadows.
Whether on the international stage or in our own everyday lives, there is good reason to peek below the surface of life.