Let's do what we can to make West Virginia the Best Virginia: Column

Ceason Ranson
Ranson Ritings

Sometimes I find myself stretching for column topics, and sometimes they get dropped into my message box. Case in point: When I got a notification this past week that mentioned Bette Midler.

First thing that went through my head: Bette Midler died. I knew she was in her late 70s, and her dying suddenly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. And I would be saddened by her death, me being a big fan of the “Beaches” soundtrack, and a habitual watcher of “Hocus Pocus,” not to mention her song, “The Rose,” which is in my top ten favorite songs of all time. So mentally, I prepared myself for the “We lost one of America’s talents today…” headlines, with the influx of tributes from people talking about how much her work had entertained and influenced them.

Then I saw what she’d tweeted and thought “So she’s not dead, but she probably wishes she was now.”

I won’t repeat what the Divine Miss M wrote, for the same reason I don’t often repeat any of the hurtful things people say about West Virginia: Because her opinion, and that’s all it is, doesn’t matter. Just like Whitney Cummings, who found out she was from West Virginia (not western Virginia as she’d always believed) and went into a comedic meltdown about it, Bette’s feelings about West Virginia seem to be culled from stereotypes she’s read about and nothing else. And as we all should know by now, where you get your information from matters.

And here’s the thing: Stereotypes do exist for a reason. Like, we as Mountaineers stereotype Ohioans as bad drivers because we’ve seen them on I-77 abusing the fast lane. Not every person from Ohio is like that, but enough have been that we just lump them all together. We’d obviously would love for the Buckeyes to prove us wrong about this stereotype, but so far, they seem uninterested in doing so.

We Mountaineers even stereotype other West Virginians. I can’t tell you the number of people I know in Charleston who, when I tell them I’m from Ripley, act like I have crawled through the backwash of a holler in my fancy clothes just to stand around on Washington Street, agape at all the big city has to offer, staying all day before me and my covered wagon make the treacherous journey back home. When we all know the only things really separating Charleston people from Ripley people is a 30-minute drive and the Town Center Mall (and we have the far superior Walmart).

And don’t even get me started on how we as West Virginians stereotype southern West Virginians. If everyone who lives above Southridge wants to act like they’ve never looked down their nose and has never made a joke about or laughed about the people that reside south on 119, then that’s between you and Jesus, and He knows you better.

It is human nature to make fun of what we don’t understand, and it's also human nature to reach for the low-hanging fruit, and making fun of our Coal Country neighbors because we don’t get how they can live in a place that feels like it's dying says more about our inability to understand how tight-knit communities really work than it does about the people that live in them.

Which is exactly why when people like Miss Midler or Miss Cummings or anyone in the comments section of an out-of-state newspaper spout out their opinions on West Virginia, I pay them no mind.

Because to me, it’s the negative opinions from the very people that live in West Virginia that bother me more than any non-Mountaineer. I can understand how non-West Virginians form their negative opinions: If all they ever see on the news is the abysmal things happening in West Virginia, it is hard to imagine there’s anything amazing about it.

But it does not help us when the citizenry of West Virginia goes negative every chance they get. Maybe I’ve just lived too long among people afflicted with “Big Idea-itis,” but I’m tired of the message board warriors who, every time someone in a community decides to do something new, have to immediately respond with a “That’ll never work.” Or if someone suggests ways to improve upon something existing, it’s met with “Why do we have to change things?!?” And the ones who really make my eyes roll are the people who ask for something, like say, a coffee shop, and they get it, don’t utilize it, and then say, “Well I meant a Starbucks.” Where is the eye-roll emoji when I need it?

I have to tell ya, I love my fellow West Virginians with a fierceness to rival a mama bear with a cub, but some of you seem to subsist solely on a diet of negativity and complaints and if you couldn’t do either in a 24-hour period, you’d die on the spot. And if you are one of those people, you’re just as bad as the Bettes and Whitneys of the world. Why do you put down anyone who tries to do anything that might improve life here, from the necessary like fixing our sewer and water systems to the dream-big projects like a whole new marina? Just what do you get out of putting down every project or idea someone else brings to the table, and never adding anything positive yourself?

I’ll tell you what you get: You get people like Bette Midler thinking we’re all just miring in our poor, illiterate, strung-out existence with absolutely no motivation to rise up. Because what’s Miss Midler supposed to think about our desire to make us the Best Virginia, if our own citizens keep trying to bring us down? The perception of outsiders about West Virginia won’t change if the insiders don’t help change it, and the best way to do that is for us to be positive about what’s happening.

Because even without the help of Washington, good things are happening, and as long as we have people who believe in the potential of our community, and the state as whole, they’ll keep happening. Would a bunch of government money help those things happen quicker? Of course it would — money doesn’t just make the world go ‘round, it makes it spin faster too. But the absence of government funding has never stopped someone bound and determined to make good things happen. And sometimes, it just makes the taste of that victory all the sweeter.

And nothing feels better than making a good thing happen when a bunch of Negative Nancys or Nathans tell you it can’t. I hope, y’all also infected with “Big Idea-itis,” that you never let that kind of energy stop you from whatever you want to do to make West Virginia great. Because the truth is, you can’t make negative people happy. If you asked them exactly what they wanted on a Tuesday, you could give it to them down the final detail on a Thursday, and they’d sign, roll their eyes, and tell you they expected it on Wednesday. So why bother trying to please those people, when they are bound and determined not to be pleased?

But if we can’t stop our own citizens from putting down our state, and we can’t stop the out-of-staters from running their mouths about us, what can we do to change the perception of our state? Well we can use that as our motivation. We take all that hot air they are blowing and use it to lift ourselves higher and higher. The wind beneath our wings, so to speak, taking us upwards to greatness while the naysayers huff and puff till they blow themselves out.

So start your new year off right by not wasting one more minute getting mad about what Bette Midler said, my friends, or not spending much time on the West Virginians who spend their time complaining rather than doing. Find something good to do this year to contribute to making us the Best Virginia we can be, small or large.

Because y’all are everyone’s heroes, and you’re everything, everything, the naysayers wish they could be. Fly high.