Minnesota Nice, the mythic attribute that famously characterizes how Minnesotans relate to others, might be a symptom of cultural restraint that holds our state back.
Our reputation for being neighborly is well deserved—as far as it goes. But ask transplants to our state what they think about Minnesota Nice and they are as likely as not to call it Minnesota Ice.
Our surface friendliness embraces the Robert Frost adage that good fences make good neighbors. When it comes to engagement with our neighbors we don't reach across the fence, we sit on it.
It is a curious attribute.
The niceness gene that weakens the bond of true commitment can also be felt in other institutions in the form of institutional reticence, even in sports.
Where is the killer instinct that vanishes in the on-field performance of our athletes? Our sports teams' meltdowns is almost as famous as our niceness moniker.
The same reluctance to legislate long-term solutions also undermines public policy.
Political campaigns are nasty and some political agendas are audacious, but outsized political promises usually become bite-sized efforts to fulfill them.
The conservative aspiration is always one of government mediocrity. But what about liberals? Theirs is a different strain of the same dysfunction.
Progressives are commonly stricken by an acceptance of glacial progress that merely nibbles around the edges of true reforms. In an era of vanishing resources this mindset sets the bar at slowing decay, not solving the problems that create it.
“Killer instinct”, “Minnesota Nice” and “status quo” are pejorative terms to many who live here. One would do too much, another too little and the other almost nothing.
All are related forms of personal and cultural tentitiveness.
It is the germ that signifies a reflexive desire to offer a cordial hello and move on, to compete but not prevail, to make a proposal but not an impact.
The pioneers who settled here had an ambition to build a flourishing community on the prairie. They built a strong, egalitarian society with social, religious and cultural depth, and possibilities as open as the surrounding countryside.
One wonders if the strivings of modern civic life reveal a lesser ambition. Will a new generation born into a world filled with peril instinctively embrace a safer neutrality?
We must resist the impulses to just survive and honor our collective commitments that allow us to thrive.
That would be nice.