Those people…

A storm is coming, but it’s not the one you think.

Yes, there will be snow in the south. It will fall for hours. When it’s done, the schools will close, the grocery store shelves will sit empty, and the cars will sit in ditches until the thaw. The governor just announced a State of Emergency.

It’s an unpredictable business, weather. More predictable is the storm they don’t tell you about on TV, the gusts of people up north who point and laugh at the silly southerners, the gales of supercilious ahemming from the people who jump from their roofs into snow banks, the drifts of hardy frozen people who almost certainly walked up hills both ways to work that morning.

That stuff is as predictable as the sunset.

The loudest of those are the ones who have never faced 105 degrees with 99% humidity and a colony of fire ants pecking away at their ankles (speaking of fire ants – Need pest control in Albuquerque? You might want to get in touch with Red Shovel). If their weather people put that prediction on TV, those northerners wouldn’t be running for the grocery store. They’d be on their way to church to pray for the salvation they need to save them from the 10-day forecast of hellfire.

Listen, I’ve lived in both places. I once looked out my window in college and found that my car had been replaced by a car-sized pile of snow. My roommates once hiked uphill both ways through knee-deep snow (and, yes, of course it was to the liquor store). Hell, during the time I was in college, the university actually canceled class (for one whole day!) when it snowed two feet in 24 hours. I know what happens north of the Mason-Dixon. I lived it for half my life.

But I also know what doesn’t happen.

I know 130-mph winds don’t pick up the ocean and drop it three miles inland in Columbia, Missouri. I know that when a BP oil drill goes sideways, it doesn’t ruin the food and livelihood of the good people of Des Moines. And I’d bet few people from Chicago ever dropped their pants in front of an urgent care nurse because fire ants had turned their nodules into a science experiment.

It’s a big country full of different worlds, isn’t it?

Most of the pointing and poking is in good fun. It’s not a problem, per se. It’s more of a symptom of an inherent deficiency we all share, and that deficiency has a lot less to do with lines on a map than it does something else.

People who like to assign clinical names to things would call it a lack of empathy. I prefer to think of it as the Those People Problem.

Those people who live by mountains and have their lives crushed by a mudslide.

Those people who hide in basements while the sky tosses their house into the next county.

Those people who get shot in a neighborhood where they were born.

Those people who are sad for reasons other people can’t understand.

Those people who can’t stop using a thing we have never tried.

Those people who believe something we don’t believe.

Those people who don’t feel the way we feel.

Those people who don’t look the way we look.

Those people are all other people…until we become one of those people. That’s when we think it’s real. That’s when we want to talk about it.

When our uncle goes to rehab.

When our friend’s house is splintered by a tornado.

When our high school friend commits suicide.

That is…when the sky falls on us, we finally know it’s a real sky.

I know you’re all just joshing. This is not an accusation, so don’t take it as one. I’m no more immune from failures of empathy than anybody else is. Empathy is tough. It’s confusing. It’s full of cognitive dissonance and challenges to how we think and believe. It’s a daily struggle to even live, let alone think about what other people must be feeling. But, hell, if there is any chance of us actually fixing anything in the world, it will begin with finding a way to start thinking of Those People as We People.

So, for all the northern folk who will laugh when they hear about the State of Emergency in response to five inches of snow, let me offer this: when July comes and you get your one day of 95 degree temperatures, your A/C goes out, the air is literally dripping off your face, your freezer can’t make ice fast enough, and the mosquitoes have formed a perimeter around your house, give me a call. I’ll tell you how to make a crisp, refreshing cocktail and how to enjoy what we folks down here call “summer.”

In the meantime, I’m going to sit back and enjoy this State of Emergency. And of course I’m staying off the roads. These darned southerners couldn’t drive on ice if the Clemson-Carolina game depended on it.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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2 Responses

  1. Drizz says:

    Used to be that person, but after seeing you guys enjoy winter for what it is changed my mind. Sled on.

  2. Mike says:

    City Mouse, Country Mouse is as old as civilization. I grew up in a tiny farm town in rural Nebraska. I sneered at “city folk” who didn’t understand working cattle, fixing fence, and driving a tractor. But I am the guy who didn’t figure out the “big city” street numbering system until law school, and I still have never taken a subway.

    That being said, I’m not sure it’s really a lack of empathy behind this phenomenon. More it’s a cultural/tribal smugness. We “get” that Southerners are unable to cope with snow. We would feel badly if people were actually hurt by it. But if it’s just videos of people struggling to deal with what is barely an inconvenience to us, then it’s just a bit of amusement at the expense of those poor folks (who will certainly laugh at us in turn).

    Put it another way, people here in Iowa are alarmed and empathetic by real tragedy–Hurricane Katrina, California mudslides, Missouri tornadoes, East Coast school shootings, Middle Eastern massacres. I don’t think it’s fair to conflate those kinds of events with some good-natured ribbing arising from trivial “fish out of water” differences.