There was an unforgettable moment I once witnessed during a visit to my home state of Wisconsin, a state that I haven’t lived in since 2014. It’s one involving the extreme kindness and politeness of strangers, a tale that I’m sure every Wisco expat has equally come to terms with.
My dad and I went to a liquor store and neared the sliding door right as a man was leaving, his hands full with the heaviness of a case of beer. As he was leaving, a woman was trying to enter with a cart. For the next five hours (alright, realistically, 30 seconds) they went back and forth about who should go first. Imagine accents straight out of “Fargo” saying things like “Oh no, I’m the one with tha cart, you’ve got your hands full!” and “Oh no, ladies first, I insist!”
I for sure gaped with my mouth wide open and stared at them, then turned to my dad and said something along the lines of “This would never happen in Colorado.”
I live in Colorado, a relatively “blue” state. We’ve legalized marijuana, we have an openly gay governor. We’ve got Denver. By all accounts, our state does its due voting diligence — the policies and politicians we put into place show that we care (or try to) for humans as a whole. But the idea of people being so kind to strangers they meet at a liquor store is practically unfathomable.
I was reminded of that Wisco moment when I was driving through Wyoming to visit my boyfriend over a three-day weekend. The second you cross the border into Wyo, you’re greeted (warned?) by a massive billboard saying there will be none of that wacky tobaccy nonsense in this fine state. Or something along those lines.
Wyoming loves guns and trucks. I’m not trying to oversimplify, because there are some wonderful cultural, environmental, and artful elements to this state. But in the past several decades, Wyo’s been as red as they come in the polls. When I’ve visited, I’m always shocked by how candidly people speak about “blacks” and “Mexicans.” I didn’t know people still used words like “retarded” and “f**” until coming here.
I got to Casper, a city notorious in the West for being, um, shall we say, a bit rough around the edges. And yet, an elderly man driving a truck (naturally) let me turn in front of him with a wave of his hand, with a gentleness and kindness that was apparently so foreign to me that it became memorable.
If you drive north in Wisconsin, you’ll see pro-life billboards and a hand-painted sign put up during the 2016 election that so eloquently stated, “If you wouldn’t listen to a b****, why would you vote for one?”
If your car broke down in Wisconsin, someone would probably offer to take you in for dinner.
If you dress a certain way in certain parts of Wyoming, you might get called names for it. If you’re stranded during a blizzard, a stranger will pull over and call their bud who’s got a tow truck to help you out.
Why is it that some of the nicest people live in some of the most conservative places?
I thought about this question as I drove along the slow-sinking sun on the open plains of Southern Wyoming, I slowed down and broke free from my cruise control for a herd of deer to cross the road. Not five minutes later, I did the same thing for two antelope who had just made it to the other side.
“Why is it some of the nicest people live in some of the most conservative places?”
On one hand, kind strangers could very well be kind to me because I look like them. Were I to be anything but a petite, white female, the response might be very different. But I don’t think it’s only that.
I think very, very few people want to be racist. I’m pretty sure the vast majority don’t want to discriminate towards others. They’ll say things like “I’m not homophobic, I have a gay friend” or share videos on Facebook of a white man and a black man getting along. I think most of us want equality. Correction: I think most of us think we want equality, but when that involves sacrifices on our part, we begin to reject it.
For some, particularly those in smaller towns and more conservative (and perhaps Christian) places, kindness to strangers feels like a necessity. Day-to-day social interactions and lending a helping hand don’t feel like something is being given up.
For others, particularly in those bigger cities and more liberal (and perhaps, non-religious) places, day-to-day social interactions and lending a helping hand feel like an immense sacrifice in the hustle and bustle of life. Voting for human rights and even accepting higher tax rates feels more manageable. It’s feeling like you’re doing the right thing, without having to engage in human connection.
We are so humanely imperfect, and therefore, have our limits. Energy needs to be conserved in one way or another. The liberals I know, myself included, could do a much better job at actually engaging in the lives of the people we are trying to help. It’s one thing to share a social media post about helping the homeless. It’s another to actually talk with someone who’s struggling.
The conservatives I know could do a much better job at realizing that politics are very personal for some. They could do a much better job at putting their “kindness to others” into practice at the polls. It’s one thing to be nice to a black woman and help her out. It’s another thing to vote for policies that infringe on her basic human rights.
We are a country where the deer and the antelope play. I truly believe that we can all get along. Our sacrifices to make our homes better involve doing things that are challenging for us. But if deer and antelope can share the same space, so should we.