We believe civil society exists when people who live in a defined geographic proximity work cooperatively — even when they strongly disagree with or dislike one another — to sustain mutually beneficial conditions. Think of civil society as a magic flying carpet that, to hold a community aloft, must contain many different fibers. Ideally, everyone in a community supplies at least one fiber to help weave this carpet and get it off the ground. Once in the air, some fibers naturally break off and float away, so all passengers have a responsibility for continual care and reweaving. In densely populated areas, there are enough citizens to supply fibers so that others can coast along for free. In small rural towns, everyone must contribute multiple threads and stay especially vigilant when it unravels to keep it from crashing to the ground.

Here are five lessons these rural carpet weavers can teach us:

1. Civil society is rooted in actions, not words.
2. Civil society abhors siloes.
3. Civil society can become a bastion of the privileged.
4. Civil society requires constant adaptation.
5. Rural communities clearly demonstrate the link between economic viability and a strong civil society.

Read the full article about what rural America can teach us about civil society by Allen J. Smart and Betsey Russell at Stanford Social Innovation Review.