Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Cars and Non-Universal Life Experiences

Just because I've seen this coming up in debates often, here is an extended analogy.

So, there are two people, Pat and Jamie. Pat lives in New York City and has never owned a car. There are subways, there are taxis, there are busses - plenty of options. Pat doesn't even want a car - they're terrible for the environment, insurance is expensive, and seriously, where would it even be parked? No thanks - Pat sees car ownership as an unnecessary luxury that is preferable to forgo.

Jamie, on the other hand, lives in a rural area - Eagle Mountain UT, Bailey CO, it doesn't really matter. Jamie was desperate to get a car upon earning a driver's license because there's nothing but highways connecting Jamie's house to everything else. Grocery stores, work, friend's houses, etc. - it's all a 15-30 minute drive minimum, and there is no public transportation around. Jamie sees car ownership as a vital component of being an independent, functional adult.

The problem comes when Pat and Jamie get to talking, and Pat doesn't like that Jamie owns a car. "Seriously, owning a car is such a terrible decision. There is public transportation everywhere! You are killing the environment for an unnecessary luxury." What would you think of Pat?

The obvious answer is that Pat is a jerk, because living in New York City is a completely different experience from living in rural America, and things that are true in New York City are not true in rural America and vice versa. Just because Pat can truthfully say "I have never needed a car" does not mean that is true for everyone. Pat's experience is not representative of all Americans, nor is Jamie's. Instead of belittling Jamie, it would be much better for Pat to say "Wow, I've never even considered what life would be like without public transportation so readily available. While owning a car is not a choice I would ever make for myself, I can see why it would be important for you."

Too often, when confronted with an uncomfortable problem, it seems like people are quick to say, "I have never experienced that, and no one close to me has experienced that; therefore, it must not be true." We need to stop doing that! Just because it hasn't happened to you doesn't mean it hasn't happened ever. Instead of dismissing people's experiences, we should earnestly try to be compassionate and put ourselves in others' shoes, even when our knee jerk reaction is to deny it. Please think about that the next time you engage in or even read a debate.

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