Sunday, February 19, 2012
The Lived Experience
I just finished listening to a Radiowest interview with my friend Kendall Wilcox, an openly gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons!). Kendall is currently making a film about homosexuality in the Mormon church with the hopes of opening up a more empathetic conversation about what it means to be gay and Mormon; in his interview, Kendall acknowledges the complexities of this issue and seeks to understand everyone regardless of where they fall on the spectrum: gay and proud, gay and not proud, straight and gay friendly, straight and gay unfriendly, etc. I am inspired by his emphasis on empathy; he seeks to understand where people are coming from and why they believe what they believe. He carefully considers those different viewpoints even if they are at odds with or potentially threatening to his own worldview.
I was really struck by Kendall's use of the phrase, "the lived experience." He points out the dissonance that often exists between our beliefs in the way things should be and the reality of how things are. If we loosen our grip on ideology for a moment and really seek to understand someone's lived experience of being gay (or being an immigrant or being on welfare, etc.), we are one step closer to operating from a space of true empathy. Engaging with someone's lived experience doesn't mean we need to completely shift our opinions on a particular issue. It just means that we are opening ourselves up to more nuance, more compassion, and, frankly, better decision making.
After letting this interview stew for 24 hours, I've come to the conclusion that I would do well in taking a page from the book of Kendall. It is easy for me to demonize those who don't think like I do or to dismiss their beliefs as less evolved. It is a breeze for me to cling to ideologies and worship at the altar of liberalism instead of really sitting for a time with those with whom I disagree (mostly conservative Republicans. Ha!). Really, how prideful of me. That sort of attitude does nothing in progressing the cause of empathy. It doesn't mean that I can't speak up for what I feel is right or good or true. It just means that I should avoid snorting and sighing audibly when other people disagree with me. It really means that I could do better at seeking to understand the lived experience of everyone, especially those who see things very differently than I do.
I suppose that is enough of an "Aha!" moment for a Sunday afternoon. If you, too, would like to reduce your audible snorts and sighs and engage with the lived experience, I highly recommend listening to this Radiowest interview: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/122111-far-between-part-ii