Judge Ye Not

mcdowell county wvMy neighbors across the street are from McDowell County, West Virginia.

And even though West Virginians often complain they are stereotyped by the rest of the nation, many West Virginians stereotype people from McDowell County.

Poverty and unemployment are widespread there. Health problems are significant, and drug abuse is tearing at the fabric of the community. Even the local public school system was under state control for more than a decade. Southern West Virginia native and documentary maker Elaine McMillion has captured the struggles as highlighted by the New York Times: West Virginia Still Home.

I have to constantly check my own assumptions, presumptions and stereotypes, and I can only imagine what people who haven’t experienced Appalachian culture think.

At least I have the privilege of knowing people from McDowell County.

Just this weekend, I had the opportunity to ride with my neighbor’s best friend since childhood, a woman who never left McDowell County.

We were headed to a late-night cast get together following a local performance of the musical Annie, and I was driving on what I considered to be empty streets. Because the growth in our community exceeded the infrastructure, traffic is usually heavy. But on Saturday night just after 11:00 pm, it was extremely light.

Then my passenger said something that surprised me.

“My husband would go absolutely crazy driving around here,” she said. “There’s just too much traffic.”

I laughed. “Too much traffic? Really? This is nothing. I can see getting freaked out in Washington D.C. traffic, but not in Martinsburg, West Virginia.”

She gave me a pointed look and simply said “it’s too busy for him.”

With that simple statement and with absolutely no malice, she put me in my place. I thought about all the times I’ve been completely overwhelmed driving in Washington D.C. traffic. Yet, thousands of people drive there every day and think nothing of it. I certainly wouldn’t want them laughing at me for my inexperience.

And yet, that’s basically what I had done to her husband, and I felt horrible.

We’ve all made the mistake of judging the rest of the world through the eyes of our own expectations and experiences, but that’s not an excuse for behaving as though our way of life sets the standard for normal.

To me, the only standard for normal should be acceptance and respect for our differences with a willingness to understand them.

Unfortunately, we are still a long way from normal.

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About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter in high school, a son starting his latest adventures at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on July 21, 2013, in current affairs, My life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Paula Hoachlander

    Hi Trina, I lived down in the DC area for almost 25 years and I never got used to the traffic! I dread going there for any reason (I’m going Thursday to take my LGSW exam, ugh!) I have been in Martinsburg for 10 years and have actually seen an increase in our traffic but still no comparison to DC what so ever! Usually the only time when traffic comes to a halt is when there is a long funeral procession and that might be 15-20 minutes tops. As usual, you have an interesting topic and I really enjoy reading your blogs.

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