The America I DidN'T know / by KR

Whoever said Americans are all the same has never left their home. I’ve traveled across the U.S. many times before, but I have never spent 3-4 days at a time in each particular stop. After time in Indianapolis, Tennessee, Arkansas, and, currently, East Texas, with two more towns to go before home, I can’t help but conclude that there are as many diverse and different cultural villages in these United States as one might find traveling across Europe. And the distances are nearly the same in comparison.

Something I have had to learn, (or re-learn), quick, is to listen; to be a student of the people and their world. All this results in me spending more time with my mouth shut than open. As Twain once said, ”"If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear." When I was in New Zealand I had to learn this art even faster than here. It was in the listening that I could notice the subtle hues of what wasn’t being said about the Maori’s or the Pakeha. Back here in the States, each community is so different from my own that it is like I am traveling in another country, needing to listen, to watch, to ask questions instead of giving my opinion here and there…for opinions can be damaging if said in the wrong context.

Having changed my vote at the last minute from McCain to Obama, for foreign policy reasons, a few weeks back made things all the more volatile in these Southern states. One lady actually said to me that “Colorado is full of liberals anyway,” which made me sad, since she obviously hasn’t paid much attention to reality – this was CO’s first time to go blue in decades, and then only by a 5% difference. My response to her was a bit much, “To say that is as stereotypical as saying Arkansas is full of red necks.” She was from Arkansas. She got my point.

Politics is the one thing that has stood out these past few weeks. I’ve never been in so many conversations that are so passionate about such an abstract idea. Maybe I am numb to the rants in Colorado, but I, again, had to remember the culture I was in and simply listen as people told me their theories about the demise of America in an Obama-led government. Our government is way too complicated with checks and balances to be destroyed or rescued by one President, no matter how hated or liked he is.

People are more than their politics. Remembering this keeps us human, and keeps us from reacting to the labels we wear.

The America we are shown on the TV is so much less diverse, intricate, personable and human than the real one. Only, I’m afraid most people are convinced that what they see on the TV or in film is all there is to it. Just as it would be a world-changer if Americans got out of the country and saw how the other 95% lived, so it would be a perspective check to spend time in another part of the States listening to the local color 2,000 miles away. They might just learn something that has nothing to do with them…if they listen hard enough.