Remember the ice bucket challenge in 2014, in which people poured a bucket of iced water over their heads to solicit donations for ALS? It was hard to do, but it took 30 seconds. It turns out that the “out of the bubble” challenge might be even harder than a bucket of cold water.
Why is it so hard? This is the most difficult part to sum up - it seems to me there are three main reasons.
First reason - I do not know anyone out of my bubble (because we are all tribal)
My friend Kate from London writes: “I’m increasingly aware that I live in a bubble - just thinking about your invitation makes me realize how often I'm talking to people who agree with me!”. My German friend Maja says: “I do not find a single person I know and can call a friend or a relative who is of the opposite view than mine. Talk about bubbles!!!” My Czech friend Katka: “I accepted your challenge but realized that I first have to get out of my bubble in order to even meet anyone with different points of view”.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in “The Righteous Mind” (a book I highly recommend or at least watch his TED talk) argues convincingly why bubbles are natural - because we are fundamentally tribal creatures. “It would be nice to believe that we humans were designed to love everyone unconditionally. Nice, but rather unlikely from an evolutionary perspective. (…) We evolved to live in groups. Our minds were designed not only to help us win the competition within our groups, but also to help us unite with those in our group to win competitions across groups”.
Being part of a tribe, an ideological bubble, has all kinds of psychological benefits - mainly a sense of belonging and not being alone.The disadvantage of long term stay inside the bubble is the development of intellectual habits such as black and white thinking and exaggerating negative stereotypes about the “other side”.
Second reason - I just want to escape to the kitchen
Talking about Trump, Brexit or gypsies is very emotional, as it is linked to our values and identity. Conversation about a topic that I care about with somebody I care about is by definition a “difficult conversation” . So our amygdala gets switched on … and with it the fight or flight response.
My friend Johanna from Sydney writes: "I am not having these bubble bursting discussion with others and I am thinking this avoidance is created rather unconsciously and very quickly to avoid conflict. Thanks for raising this topic and for committing to exploring this so comprehensively and passionately! I will endeavor to have at least one conversation and share it on your website”.
Miriam from Calgary says: "I’ve read your Bubble Project and love the idea. I have a close friend who is a religious Christian and fiercely anti-abortion/pro-life. She also believes that debate should not be stifled. She'd be a great person for me to start with even though the thought gives me palpitations!!! "
My Czech friend Zuzana was surprised how difficult it is for her to communicate with someone with a different view of hers. “I just want to go away and do not want to hear anything”! My friend Julie from Prague says that when her brother argued with her father about refugees on Christmas Day, she escaped to the kitchen. “So when I imagine that I should talk about it with either of them … well, I’d just rather not!”.
My Canadian friend Susan has a specific story on the double duty of an important topic/keeping the friendship: "I was at my good friend's the other night and she continues to disparage her husband because he keeps an open mind about Trump. The rest of us (me included, but privately) 'judge' his opinion. It is definitely 'us' and 'them'. I was thinking how I could open this topic with my friend without jeopardizing the friendship."
A friend from Prague writes in capital letters : “I catch myself just NOT WANTING to talk with people from the other bubble. And then I criticize myself for it.”
Third reason - the feelings run pretty deep
Several American friends shared their very strong feelings after the election of Donald Trump. They had difficulties in imagining having a conversation with a Trump supporter who would be “gloating at their candidate’s win”. They admit to seeing their side as “good” and the other as “bad” , and that feeling runs pretty deep.
Erich from Prague watched videos of Trump supporters on You Tube and “does not feel that these are people who would like to have a dialogue: “The message I find there is: you have ignored us, we are hurt (!), but now that we won, we will do whatever we want. So I see the rise of isolationism, protectionism, intolerance, bigotry.”
With my London based friend Malgosia we discussed the important topic of how emotionally charged these issues are: “I will give you an example: I am talking to a Brexitier and that person is explaining why they voted that way and there is no single argument or reason that makes sense and its very clear that person did not vote Brexit but voted against Cameron. I then experience frustration, despair and very strong depression.This impacts on my body and my mind because I then come home and cannot sleep."
As a therapist, she listens to people sharing their worries in her practice.
“I have just had another example of 2 people very upset by Brexit. I would not call it frustration. I would call it despair and fury. I do not think you should underestimate the depth of emotions that this issue touches in people. Its about survival, jobs, security, rights, unfairness, being uprooted. People go depressed and tearful and disoriented (at least those I talk to). So just to suggest that they should talk to the other side is slightly far fetched. It's not an intellectual exercise. It's a very emotionally charged issue for which people need to be prepared.”
My friend Melodie living in Normandy actually tried a difficult conversation and openly shared how painful it was.
“I proposed a difficult topic. I handled the difficult response. I managed what felt to me like insults. I persisted to speak what I believed, while acknowledging my counterpart. It was a choice between the "out of my bubble" conversation and status quo, which was even less desirable. It was difficult. It was painful. It shed some light on a blind spot. Next time I think I will (the conversation will continue) think of ways in which I can show more appreciation for my counterpart.”
(Thanks, Melodie and I will get you that promised bottle of wine as soon as we meet.)