Culture Cue: Expressing Lived Experiences
In the age of social media we have constant access to an endless stream of opinions, experiences, research, and perspectives. Not only are we wading through what real people share, we’re also trying to discern who is real on the internet. We’re being asked to strengthen our discernment abilities in real time and it’s no small feat.
Expression is a huge part of culture. A healthy culture allows people to express themselves through voice, imagery, movement, dress, and more. This is important to a person’s autonomy and self-determination. But what happens when we’re suddenly exposed to an endless stream of people expressing themselves, often in contradictory or opposing ways? Since the mass adoption of the internet beginning in the 1990’s we’ve been trying to figure this out.
Culturally, the way we converse and dialogue with each other is vitally important and the internet has significantly shifted the way we do this. But in the U.S. our communication skills have not kept up with the amount we’re asked to be in relationship with each other over the internet. We have always been connected through human experience and life on this planet, but up until recently we didn’t take in nearly as much information about what that connection means on a daily basis as we do now.
To me, this is actually a point of optimism because it reminds me we are in the process of developing new skills and systems for a reality that is really only 30ish years old. (I’m 30ish years old and I’m certainly still learning new skills.) While the sense of disconnection and tension rises, it’s helpful to keep this in perspective.
An example of this is developing how we understand the difference between sharing an opinion and sharing a lived experience. Sometimes when I witness public or private conversations there seems to be a misunderstanding about this. When someone offers their lived experience, it’s an opportunity to stay curious and open, to learn. But too often I see it being debated.
Lived experiences are not something we can debate and find the right answer to - they are what people have lived through and learned from. They are what make us each unique. There’s no answer to be found because it’s an experience, not a question. Lived experiences can help people form opinions, but not all opinions are informed by lived experiences.
Inevitably, though, multiple lived experiences may be in opposition, just as opinions can be. But while opinions often lead to heated debate, sharing lived experiences can, when handled with care, lead to points of emotional connection. They are easier pathways to understanding the basic human needs we’re all trying to meet. Opinions live in the head, experiences live in the heart.
Experiences are complex and therefore, opinions and identities are complex as well. In the hard conversations we engage in, there often isn’t one right answer, but many possible answers that can work together if we allow them to. There are, after all, over 7.8 billion people on this planet. How could we possibly expect there to be one right answer for everyone?
“How I experience the world is different from how you experience the world, and both our interpretations matter.”
- Manulani Aluli Meyer in
Indigenous and Authentic
“Understanding that each viewpoint carries with it its own deficiencies is an integral part of moving toward the manyness of reality, because it leads one to understand that there isn’t a viewpoint that is flawless and complete.”
- Boaventura de Sousa Santos in
The End of the Cognitive Empire
This week I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling. I wish it was called something different because it implies “siding with” J.K. Rowling on her recent controversies. However, I’m appreciating it because it’s adding a lot of nuance and complexity to not only J.K. Rowling’s story, but also the cultural debates about banning books, feminism, transgender rights, and public discourse. It’s asking us to move out of black and white / right and wrong thinking and move into the gray zone.
It’s an excellent example of how listening to peoples’ lived experiences can help us better understand their opinions, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.
Thanks for reading Culture of Relations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.