The morning of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, I was listening to voters being interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition. One voter, Deborah Gordon, described her pride in Trump, her disgust in the “fake” election, and her utter disbelief that the state of Georgia went to Biden. She told the reporter that everyone she knows loves Trump and everywhere she goes supports Trump too—including the two Trump rallies she has attended. (I won’t tell her if you don’t.) Another Georgia voter, Trish White, said this: “I absolutely love President Trump, and I believe the election was stolen in the state of Georgia – absolutely believe it. Look around. No way Biden won this state – no way.”
When you look around and never have your beliefs and biases challenged, it’s hard to see any alternatives to your reality as, well, reality. This is why people must—especially people in rural and small town areas—leave their hometown, if only temporarily.
According to a survey done by North American Moving Services, 72% of Americans live in or near their hometown. 75% of women are more likely to stay in their hometowns, compared to 68% of men. This is what contributes to people’s ability to believe that everyone thinks like them, easily allowing folks to become willfully siloed from others who would be happy to disagree with them.
There’s a lot of comfort in ignorance, and 24% of the people who stayed in their hometown said comfort and familiarity was why they stayed. To be fair, I don’t know if those two Trump supporters have ever left their hometown, but their current place of living isn’t offering much diversity — and this is what pisses me off about humans. People who stay in their safe and like-minded bubbles know what they know because they never put themselves in a position to experience views not their own. They never leave home, and it shows.
College was my excuse, reason, and motivation to get out of my hometown when I was 18, but my degree is secondary and not even directly relatable to any of the jobs I’ve had since graduating from college. The education I got about myself, other people, different religions, races, and ethnicities were the foundation I needed to expand my mind and add peripheral vision to see outside of what I thought I knew. It wasn’t simply the exposure to people who looked and thought differently than myself that helped widen my mind to truths not my own; it was finding commonality in those differences that allowed me to gain a better sense of self and understanding that we all deserve to be heard, seen, and treated equitably. I was fortunate for grants, loans, and scholarships to pay my way through school and I know not everyone will have that opportunity, but going away to college, or moving out of the town you grew up in—even temporarily—is so important. One study suggests that travel makes us smarter and provides us with more opportunities that allow us to be successful. We all define success in different ways, but survival is the most basic and primal goal. Travel was key to our evolution as a species. The need to find resources and adapt kept the human race moving forward but it also rewired our brains in ways that can’t happen when stuck in the same space, doing the same thing, and around the same people every day. When we surround ourselves with change, we can change too. We can learn. And if we don’t question our own beliefs and what we consider facts by holding them against others’ then how can we be so sure we’re right? How can we know we believe in is right for us? The blue collar, rural town I left at 18 didn’t have enough people to challenge the racist and homophobic views that knitted the community together. It didn’t have enough art or music. It didn’t have enough people from different backgrounds to give each other windows into customs, ideas, and explanations that could start discussions and arguments. I can’t report on the intelligence of those two voters interviewed by NPR, but their inability to think critically draws me to conclude that they are either brainwashed or not smart enough to fact check. And it leads me back to the assumption that they don’t get out enough or diversify their news sources or vacation plans. They haven’t been asked to adapt, step outside their comfort zone, or allowed any other reality to be considered. Someone who can believe Trump’s lies is either too dumb or too bigoted to believe anything else. Living in a new place and surrounding yourself with new people is mind-opening and forces us to become resourceful as we figure out new standards. Travel introduces us to a wider personal and professional network. Leaving home sheds ignorance and gives us freedom to explore who we are and who others claim to be. Even if after leaving home and our values and voting alignment stays the same, my hope is that we can become more accepting and critical of what we think is the truth. Folks who can second-guess biases are less likely to look around and claim everything they see within eyesight applies to all people. Because I’m not a hypocrite, I surround myself with people, information, and places that force me to understand nuance while sorting out facts. This means that sometimes I have to admit I’m wrong. I have to research and learn and check my ego. I don’t allow myself to stay stuck in the comfort of ignorance. My agenda includes challenging others to do the same. Because if making people more aware of their own mental limitations is wrong, then I don’t ever want to be right.
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