What’s the solution?

I’ve noticed a long-standing trend in the thought process among vocal people involved in politics. I first noticed it when I was just getting started as an advocate for groundwater ten years ago, I really experienced it in my four years on our local city council, and now it is being shoved in my face as a voter in the 2020 election. Originally, I only saw it in person, when hearing a person testify or in having a conversation at a political event. Currently, I read it in the comments section, or in posts from my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and LORD KNOWS I heard it in the debate last night.

This same line of thinking is directly related to why I became liberal while attending college. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t “indoctrinated” by my “liberal overpaid professors.”

Have you heard these? Have you said/typed them?

“I haven’t seen ______ so it doesn’t happen.”

“I lived in poverty, and was able to pull myself up to join the middle class- why don’t they?”

“This housing development will never work- the yards are too small and no one will want to live there.”

“People choose to be gay.”

“I don’t see color- systemic racism is a joke.”

“I was sick with ______, and I recovered just fine- those people with ‘long-term illnesses’ are lying to manipulate the system.”

A great place to start in solving these obviously flawed arguments is realizing this: Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Sure, I’d never seen anyone hurt unjustly by a police officer. In fact, I grew up around police officers. Once I moved to college, met other people, and learned about their lives, I realized that some people HAD been hurt unjustly by police officers. I didn’t live it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s really hard to imagine something so outside your own life and it feels uncomfortable. It’s easier to pretend that it isn’t a problem, and that’s a luxury that many people don’t have.

My lived experience is not the only lived experience.

This is very apparent in the pro-choice/pro-life debate. I grew up in a very Catholic household, where I was raised to essentially be a one-issue voter. I still understand exactly where Catholic pro-life voters are coming from: I never needed an abortion, because I was a virgin on my wedding night. Then I moved away, met a lot of new people, and realized, you know what? My lived experience is not the only lived experience. Abortion wasn’t right for me, or necessary, and I honestly hadn’t ever thought about it for myself because I was too busy thinking about other college stressors like working and making friends and learning to be a classically trained musician. However, many people had VERY different experiences than I did, and it didn’t sit well with me that I should be telling other people that I didn’t know what they should be doing with their bodies. This was a huge realization, and quite literally a “Voila!” moment. I thought, “Holy shit, I shouldn’t be telling anyone what to do with their body. That is between them and their doctor and God, if they want.” That realization didn’t happen until I was able to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. It wasn’t comfortable.

It’s worth mentioning that I researched abortion rates as a part of this realization, and discovered that abortions have gone down with “liberal” policies in place. I was pretty shocked. If ending abortions is the real end game, I was fighting for the wrong side all along.

My lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Currently, this is playing out locally, with an absolutely INSANE fight over the installation of new bike lanes. I routinely see angry people commenting about what a waste of taxpayer money it has been, despite (in our local situation) having quite a chunk of the lanes paid for by a very competitive Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant that our city secured. I see things like this, “I didn’t see a damn person in the bike lanes yesterday. In fact, I saw two riding on the sidewalk!” “We installed these bike lanes for the three months out of the year that those people in spandex want to speed through intersections, and they’ll be completely out of use during the colder months.” “Bikes don’t pay taxes, only drivers do! Bikes should pay their share of road maintenance and help us fix those potholes.”

The discrepancy here is that people seem to be unable to fathom a scenario different than their own. Perhaps people choose to ride their bikes, and they don’t have to. It’s fun to ride your bike! 🙂 There is also a segment of people who don’t drive, and if they want to get around, they need to use an alternate form of transportation. There is even a segment of people who wish they could drive but can’t, either for safety reasons or not having a car. Many of those folks need to ride their bike. Bicyclists aren’t only joy riding around, although that is certainly a subgroup of people (that includes our family!). Bicyclists are elderly folks riding to the grocery store, and college students riding between their apartment and campus, and people struggling to make ends meet with a higher-paying job that isn’t within walking distance of their home, so they ride their bike year-round. We have US Census data that shows that a portion of our community rides their bike to work year round, despite the snow and cold. In order to truly absorb this information, most people need two things: 1) to understand and believe in accurate data, and 2) to believe that someone may have a lived experience different than their own. Yes, yes, I know that you started working a job at 14 to pay for the car that you drove to school (me, too!), but other people are living in different situations under different circumstances.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

When I was on city council, I made an appeal to my colleagues and community members at a meeting regarding a new housing development. The city was looking to hire a local builder to put up new houses right in the middle of our neighborhood- a place where single-family housing is hard to come by. The developer came to the meeting with plans for what the houses would look like and how they’d lay out on the lot slated for building. I was shocked to hear my neighbors repeatedly argue that since these houses didn’t look like theirs, they wouldn’t work. No one would buy them. No one wants a yard that small. No one wants a modern looking house. No one wants to be that close to their neighbors. In response, I essentially said, “I understand where you’re coming from. I personally like a big yard, too! However, I have several friends who moved away from Central Wisconsin to a place with zero lot line homes and and minimal yards, because they don’t want to spend time on yard maintenance. Honestly, our houses here are already very close to each other- many of our Northside lots are 50 feet wide. My house is one foot from the property line. Putting houses close together isn’t a new thing- our house is 100 years old, and this neighborhood is older. Your lived experience is not the only lived experience. Just imagine that it’s possible someone may want something that is different than you do. In this case, it’s not even imaginary people, it’s real people who took the surveys that compile our housing study.”

I thought it was so eloquent, honestly. I was shocked that I had to remind my neighbors that different people want different things! As I walked back to my seat, I passed a neighbor who looked at me angrily, saying, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

For what? For reminding people that the world is larger than inside our own head? Larger than our own family? Larger than our own community? People worldwide are waking up today and having vastly different experiences than we are. Some people aren’t waking up today, and their families are certainly having a different experience than I am, sitting in my office on this rainy fall day with hot coffee and silence to work.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Sometimes people ask me about my conversion from Catholic conservative to liberal. I used to tell them that I grew up. Sometimes I would say that I went to college. The truth is both of those, and more. I went to college, where I grew up, and my worldview expanded greatly as I met new people and learned about other lived experiences. I was suddenly uncomfortable. I was faced with real issues that seemingly impacted only “other people,” and I needed to make some tough decisions. How do I feel about racism, now that I know people who have directly been impacted? How do I feel about making health care decisions for other people? How do I feel about ensuring that everyone has equal rights, even if I don’t understand where they’re coming from?

There is really interesting research showing the connection between your political persuasion and the population density where you live. The tipping point from Conservative to Liberal is right around 800 people per square mile. Source: https://medium.com/@davetroy/is-population-density-the-key-to-understanding-voting-behavior-191acc302a2b

The more you are exposed to a variety of other lived experiences, the more likely you are to vote for liberal policies that protect all people.

My takeaway? Please remember that your lived experience is not the only lived experience. An important follow up is this: No one is trying to tell you that your lived experience isn’t true- you lived it! You know your experience better than anyone else. Acknowledging others’ lived experiences doesn’t take anything away from your own experience. If anything, you have a duty to share your experience for others to understand you! Just keep in mind that other people likely have a different experience than you do.

If you don’t need a bike lane to ride your bike to work in January, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t need a small yard, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t need an abortion, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t experience racism daily, cool! Some people do.

Please keep this in mind at the ballot box. Problems still exist even if you don’t see them. They exist even if you haven’t lived them. It seems clear to me that the incumbent doesn’t believe in problems that he doesn’t see. If he hasn’t experienced racism, then it doesn’t exist. If he hasn’t experienced police brutality, then it’s been invented by the “liberal media.” If he hasn’t experienced joblessness or homelessness, then these problems aren’t real. FAKE NEWS.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Thanks for reading.


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