After 15 years on the East Coast, I consider myself a New Englander. That identity goes with me when I travel, and becomes a filter through which I view other parts of the country.
Recently, I traveled to Utah, a state I'd never visited.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt I had landed in a place where the pace and style of living was markedly different from that in the East. Community priorities appeared different, too. In Salt Lake City, with its strong Mormon influence, families with children were everywhere.
In Eastern cities, especially college towns like Boston, everyone seems to be under 30 and transient.
The West has show-stopping scenery and vastness and untameability that make New England topography look puny and fussy by comparison. Life is lived on a bigger scale out West, and for many people, it's lived closer to nature than most urban-dwelling Easterners can fathom.
Along a highway near the Provo River, I saw a pickup truck with two deer carcasses tied in back. As someone who deeply opposes hunting, the sight repulsed me. But something in my mind shifted for a moment, and I saw the hunters as part of a larger picture of life in the West. While it didn't make me any more forgiving of their deed, I caught a glimpse of the ways some of us unilaterally condemn people in another part of the country without any knowledge or attempt at understanding.
Values and habits are shaped by geography, history, tradition, and culture. Perhaps the biggest lesson from traveling is learning to suspend judgment, looking at a new place with the filter off.
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