Lived Experiences

I went for a bike ride this morning and had lots of time to think. (I have to ride on roads as there is no bike path I can bike to and I refuse to wear earphones because I want all senses helping me identify other vehicles.) One vehicle put forth extra effort to be patient with me and give me space. When I felt safe enough and waved it by I found it was a dad and son in full riding gear with bikes on the back. Of course. That driver knew my experience and had empathy for what I needed. A bit later, on the scariest bit of my ride, where the street is narrowest and cars are going by at 40 miles per hour, some cars went way into the oncoming lane to give me space, others crowded and scared me (no cars were coming the other way at this time). I figure those giving me space are either bike riders themselves or have someone they know well who rides and so they get it. The drivers too close simply don’t. They haven’t lived it.

Not me, but it looks quite familiar. From Seth Werkheiser’s flickr.

Two years ago I got a new Prius. I can unlock the driver’s door by putting my hand in the door handle (assuming I have the key with me). My husband pointed out that I could change that so it unlocked all four doors at once rather than having to open my door and click the unlock button. This made sense to him as I often have our daughters with me or we’ll all going in that car. However, as a woman, that’s not what I want. I’d rather have to take the extra time to unlock the doors for others as needed rather than have all the doors unlocked when I’m alone. My 6’2″ husband had never considered that perspective. He hasn’t lived the experience of being a woman, of having men I don’t know make sexual comments to me, of being raped. I’ll take safety over inconvenience.

When one lacks lived experience it requires work to understand another’s perspective. We can never fully get it as we are all formed by our own experiences. But we can make a concerted effort. I have never lived life as a person of color. I’ve never been Black or indigenous or Latinx or Asian or Indian. My entire life experience has been as a white woman. I’ve never had to learn the language of the country in which I live. I’ve never been LGTBQ. I’ve never tried to navigate the world with a disability. I have not lived those experiences and I do not understand what it means to do so.

I recognize that fact. I know that when people speak or act their life experiences are a part of what drives them. When I judge their words and actions solely based on my life experiences I am wrong. My lens is only one lens. I need more.

We are lucky to live in a time in which access to other perspectives and understandings is easy. Even if you are surrounded by people who look, sound, and act like you, as many of us are, you can find a wider world than that without much work. I will never be anything but what I am, but I will read and listen widely to others. I will search out people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, people with experiences that are different from mine to try and understand our world a little better.

My reactions to Charlottesville and Boston, my reactions to taking down Confederate monuments, my reactions to white supremacists and Nazis are born from my life experiences. I am lucky that my life experiences now include so many people who are willing to share their reactions and help me understand my own. Our world is widely diverse, far more so than I can put into words, and while I can not truly understand what that means for so many there is no reason not to try.

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