ASH AMBIRGE

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“It’s Too Dangerous to Travel.” (And Other Hard Conversations I Had While Driving Through Rural America.)

In: Communication, Finding Your Voice, Hard Stuff,

“It’s too dangerous.”

Three little words I kept hearing over and over again when I visited the United States this fall. At dinner tables from Boston to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between—specifically many rural towns, as I was in search of autumn—we would talk about where I live in Costa Rica. How I had spent the summer in London. How I had married two of my best friends in Mexico. How I had lived in Chile, all those years, and spent time in Paris, and recently took a jaunt over to Colombia—a place that you really should try.

“Why don’t you come down, sometime? We’ll take out the boats,” I’d say, thinking that the prospect of a day of deep sea fishing would be just the ticket for the rugged outdoors type.

“Thanks for the offer, but we don’t do the travel thing. Too dangerous.” That was the most common response, in some of the places where I was. Another person commented that they didn’t get on planes because they couldn’t have a gun—and they didn’t like feeling out of control. Someone else said that her husband would never allow it, presumably for the same reasons.

I kept my face neutral.

These are hard conversations to have.

And yet, I keep trying to have them, because I’ve found myself in the unique position of having unfettered access to both sides of the great divide. I sometimes feel like an anthropologist who has gained the trust of two enemy tribes in Africa, and is tasked with helping both understand the other. My past, where I grew up, is conservative Republican—though growing up with two liberal Democrat parents from the city gave me balance. My present philosophies, of course, reflect the ideologies you might imagine a world-traveling, city-hopping, independent woman to have. But I try to remain open to all arguments, all viewpoints, all perspectives, because an opinion isn’t born in isolation: it’s symptomatic of something much bigger than that. What are the circumstances of your reality? What is your environment like? What do you see around you every day that leads you to believe that this is true?

These are the things I want to know.

There are reasons, of course—but not the ones that people state. I’m interested in the real reasons; the subconscious beliefs that influence everything. The root. Because this is what we must seek to understand about one another: where are your beliefs born? Because whether you live in California or Oklahoma, your respective backyards matter to one another, even if you’ll never see them.

Tell me what you see around you, every day, and it will explain far more than an opinion.

I’ve had the benefit of living in both worlds. I have struggled the same way that both have. I’ve also experienced the joys that make both tribes beautiful. But it is difficult when neither side is curious enough to understand the other. Understanding is not the same as agreeing; it’s saying, “I see who you are, and can imagine why you might feel that way. Here are the things that I’ve seen that make me think differently.”

But there is too much disgust for curiosity.

And yet, curiosity might be the cure.

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