We made a promise to ourselves that we were done writing about election-related issues, but much like our electoral college, promises were apparently made to be broken. -Oh, sick civics burn- Yet, if this election has proved one thing it is that we know nothing about how the other half of the country works, lives, or even what starting Pokemon they would choose. We believed that the Internet was going to open up the world and expose us to people from all around with different lives, opinions, and thoughts, but it’s quite the opposite. The Internet has only become a maddening bubble of echoes where our own opinions are shouted back at us, except in a deeper voice and sometimes in the form of a Kermit meme. So how did it get this way, and how do we stop?
Identifying Your Bubble
We realize that because of the very nature of the Internet, your Google search algorithms, custom advertising, the history of articles you have previously “shared” or “liked,” and because of Benedict Cumberbatch many of you will never even see this article, let alone read it. However, that is kind of the point we are making here. In small and large ways, we are all trapped in a bubble, and your first instinct may be to respond, “No, I’m not.” Well, than you are in the biggest bubble of all, Self-Denial. It is the nature of humanity and our genetic disposition toward tribal instincts that make us we naturally gravitate to those we find similiar, whether those groups be based upon ethnicity, politics, sports teams, or even Star Trek captains. -Picard 2020-
It is also worth mentioning a bubble is not necessarily bad. They do serve a purpose, giving us a sense of community and a space to feel connected and safe among those of our own kind. It’s basically, the Comic Con factor. Dressing up as Link and Zelda in almost any other context would be weird and confusing, but in the convention hall it so common that no one looks at you twice. Moderate bubblization is fine until we take it too far. For example, Giants or Yankees’s fans having a good natured rivalry with Cowboys or Red Sox fans is all part of the experience, until it turns into a brawl. If we become closed off to the opinions and experiences of those of other or opposing sides than we start to move into bad territory, and now, thanks to the advent of the Internet, we never have to hear another person’s opposing opinion again, if we so choose.
Yet, when bubblization is at its most extreme, that is precisely the time we need to take a step back and evaluate our own place and our own bubble(s). You see, our bubbles are more live Venn Diagrams than complete encompassing circles. We all belong to a variety of different bubbles and some are stronger than others. We might be Trekkies, or Republicans, or African Americans, or tax attorneys, or all of them all rolled into one. Each bubble that surrounds us will have a varying degree of strength and elasticity. One bubble may be mutually exclusive to another, but probably not as often as you might think. It is our job as caring and thinking humans beings to take stock of ourselves and not only start seeing the bubbles we live in, but how big or strong they are. We need to recognize where we live, what we do, what we believe in, and how we live our lives. These factors all help us build our worlds and our world views.
The real concern is when our bubbles become part of us. As humans preconditioned with tribal nature, we can sometimes confuse the bubble that surrounds us with our own skin. This happens when we feel as if we derive self-worth or importance from that flimsy soapy encasement. This is also what happens so often in politics. People begin to identify so strong with the labels of Democrat or Republican; or Liberal or Conservative that we lose sight of the smaller picture. We all share the human bubble, but thanks to our other bubbles no one man or woman among us will ever truly be the same as another. That means a candidate or a party will never fully embody everything we believe in, but if your political bubble is too strong -if you make it part of your self-identity- than you will face more than a few challenges. Not only will you need to find ways to ignore or integrate viewpoints and beliefs that you don’t normally hold, but you will intimately feel every little poke and prick that tries to to pierce your bubble’s exterior. That is the difference between laughing something off and starting a soccer riot.
Let’s be truthful here. You are never going to fully step outside your bubble, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a walk every now and then and get some fresh air. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is something worth remembering. Putting yourself in others’ shoes helps in almost any situation. Trying -really trying- to see an argument from your opponent’s viewpoint not only lets you gain a better understand of their side of an argument but also your own. Now, we know that is easier said than done, especially when it comes to entrenched topics like politics. So our advice is: start small.
Don’t tackle an entire political landscape or doctrine all at once. Look at it in small parts and try to think about how and why people might support small positions. Is it out of fear or hope? Is it our of anger or laziness or joy or ignorance or what? And… this is important… don’t make a judgement. You have to be able to see what other people think without superimposing your own views and judgements on top of them. We know that is probably the most difficult thing anyone can do. We won’t lie, you will probably fail more times than you succeed, but for this exercise there is as much value to be found in the attempt as their is in success. Being able to stretch your mind to see the world as someone different is a great way to gain a wider perspective. In fact, it is a lot like traveling. You can never fully understand Hong Kong, Johannesburg, or even Cincinnati until you have seen them and experienced them for yourself. In the end, you may not want to live there, but you will be enriched for the attempt.
Usually the best way to do this is to ask questions and to listen. People want to explain their point of view and they want to do it to a person who is willing to hear them out. Let them explain their position and then ask genuine and thoughtful questions about it. Try to learn why that person believes what they do. Piercing your own bubble is about gaining a greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and a greater appreciation for those that hold them. Often a person’s perspective is shaped as much by their circumstances and their environmental factors as it is by their own intelligence and emotions. Thus, making a effort to understand why a person believes something is as much about understanding them as individuals as it is about acknowledging their ideas.
Lastly, just because you entertain a different idea does not mean you have to accept it. It is okay to examine an idea or a doctrine that is completely opposite and still come back with the conclusion that you were right all along. For instance, you may try to understand why some people think The Force Awakens was not a completely hackneyed attempt to rehash A New Hope, but that does not mean those people are right. In fact, being right or wrong is not actually what this exercise is about. It is about building bridges and understanding. You may never believe that JJ Abrams is nothing more than someone out to ruin your favorite space-themed franchises, but that should not stop you from meeting those who -incorrectly- think otherwise.
Don’t Make it Personal
Perhaps most importantly, you need to show other people respect. The only way you will ever expand your view and the view of others is to have conversations with those that disagree with you. Yet, you can’t make it personal. You can argue with someone about their ideas of policy or their opinions on the news of the day, but when things degenerate into: “You’re a filthy and ignorant liberal…” or “You’re a racist…” or “you’re a Nazi…” then the argument breaks down into petty name calling. You will have failed. All name-calling does is force people to retreat back to their own bubble and close off to what you are saying. Personal attacks don’t work. They are the last refuge of the ill-informed and the frustrated.
Engaging someone with a different view is a two way street. You will say things that will make them upset and they will do the same to you, but for the process of breaking out of your own bubble that is necessary. It is like getting a tooth drilled or a cast set. There will be discomfort, there may even be some pain, but it is how the healing begins. Always remember to treat each other with respect and to try and understand where the other person is coming from. You may not convince anyone. Actually, you almost certainly will never convince anyone no matter how many sources or logical ideas you bring to the table, but there is purpose in the effort. When we stop reaching out, when we stop reaching across to those who think differently, than that is when we wake in a country that cannot be fixed.
It doesn’t matter who the damn President is. It doesn’t matter what the people in Washington say or what they do. America is not a country built by rulers. It is a country built by people, and as long as we make the effort to break out of our little Internet shells and engage others thoughtfully and respectably, than this world will get better. You also shouldn’t be afraid to have your mind changed, because growing and gaining new understandings of the world around you is not a betrayal of who you are. It is a sign that you are living a vibrant and well-examined life.
- Identify your bubbles;
- Read something from a news source* that does not necessarily reflect your worldview;
- Engage with someone who does not normally agree with you; and
- Keep an open mind.
*Conservative Reading to Consider *Liberal Reading to Consider
– National Review – Washington Post
– The Wall Street Journal – BuzzFeed
– The American Spectator – The Atlantic
– The Weekly Standard – Slate