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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Lived Experience

I was born, and for the most part raised, in Amarillo, Texas. Not one to believe that affiliation with a locale automatically translates to a common shared perspective, I can’t accurately comment on whether or not my experience in Amarillo is similar to others born in the city.

Oddly, people I meet who a who aren’t transplants to the city generally ask me one of two questions which serve as a purity test of sorts—gaging my experience as an Amarilloan: 1) What high school did you attend? 2) Do you like Taco Villa [if I’m in the city, or…] Do you miss Taco Villa [if I’m out of the city]?

Gatekeeping of this ilk reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail during which the bridge keeper demands, “Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.”

If there was a third question, which I’m not commonly asked in the latter years of my life though I received fairly regularly in early adulthood, it would be something like: 3) What do you think about the song “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait?

With no intention of disappointing the reader, I’ll answer each question:

1) Amarillo High School

2) I adore it and miss it very much.

3) It’s the quintessential song representing the city, as I’ve been asked about it in different countries and it breeches fans of various musical genres. Well done, King George!

Even with these shared experiences and interests, I can’t truly claim that my background as an Amarilloan suggests anything of the collective knowledge, wisdom, and understanding for others from the same area. I’m an individual before identifying as a former resident of my place of birth.

This speaks to the notion of “lived experience,” which one source describes as “knowledge based on someone’s perspective, personal identities, and history, beyond their professional or educational experience.” Not all individuals from Amarillo maintain the same or similar lived experiences.

For instance, there is a subset of Amarilloans who colloquially refer to Amarillo is “Bomb City.” Explaining the rationale, one source suggests:

You can sum it up in a word. Seriously, one word is all it takes to understand where the name comes from. That one word is Pantex.

To borrow from the “official internet definition,” Pantex is a nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. In fact, it's the primary one in the US, and has been in operation for a long time.

As the film Bomb City depicts, I recall first hearing the colloquialism from those who identified as punks. Even still, the counterculture kids in high school didn’t maintain a collective lived experience with others from the affluent high school I attended.

Likewise, I doubt that many of the punks had firsthand experience working at Pantex. On the other hand, I worked at the facility from 2004 to 2008, and I assure the reader that security police officers didn’t share the same lived experience as engineers, for instance.

The term “lived experience” is often used to demonstrate that person X, from group X, shares certain traits or background similarity and thus may speak on behave of all members associated with group X. I disapprove of this collectivist tactic. As one source accurately opines:

The irony of elevating lived experience is that, while it appears power is devolved to the speaker, power is often held by mysterious ‘Wizard of Oz’ type figures who select ​the people with lived experience to serve on advisory boards, testify to Congress, give media interviews, or otherwise disseminate their story. Individuals and groups with a platform—foundations, journalists, celebrities— are able to select and elevate specific lived experiences in ways your average person cannot. The selection of voices is never viewpoint neutral or without an agenda.

As an example, I’m biracial. My dad is black and my mom was white. All the same, I can’t honestly declare that because I’m of mixed race I know what it’s like for all people of similar heritage, or that I may be able to represent the existential experience of others. Per a separate source:

The latest iteration of pampering is the promotion of “lived experience” over critical thinking. By citing “lived experience,” some students make claims of expertise about their own lives that are not subject to dispute. In this context, critical thinking means open-minded consideration of whether the person’s narrative fits what actually happened and whether that narrative is a productive way of thinking about it. “Lived experience” can be a claim that what the person is aware of is all there is, with no allowance for the way the narrative may be self-serving or just plain wrong.

I argue that it’s literally impossible for person X to represent all members of group X—or even most members of the group. Therefore, claims of “lived experience” are as relevant to a conversation as what a person’s favorite color is—a subjective element that has little meaning other than to the individual.

I have no more in common with the late Stanley Marsh 3, featured in Plutonium Circus and the individual responsible for Cadillac Ranch, than I do with a random clerk at Toot’n Totum—even though each of us hail from Bomb City. Thus, I don’t support the notion of “lived experience.”

How about you, dear reader? Do you find value in deceiving yourself by irrationally believing that merely because you share commonality with others, you are somehow the same as them?

If so, does this frame of mind serve you well? If your interests and goals aren’t being fulfilled by your self-deception, I may be able to help.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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