“I live in a bubble,” someone told me the other day, referring to the fact that no one he knows would ever think of voting for Donald Trump.
“It’s going to be a very close election,” a pundit on Morning Joe said, “because it doesn’t matter who is running, we are a bitterly divided country.” I was astonished at the thought.
For months and months I comforted myself with the perspective that only 27% of the adult population is Republican, so when Trump was leading Primary polls with 18% I thought to myself, “Well, that’s 18% of 27%.” Even when he won a primary with 36% I continued to fractionalize the Trump portion. When one recent poll showed Trump with 41% of registered voters I heard myself saying, “Let’s see, only 75% of eligible voters are registered so that’s only 41% of 75%. Hmmm.”
Then, one morning this week, I was walking across the parking lot on my way to visit someone in the hospital and I watched a guy coming toward me who had just left the building. He was about six feet tall, rotund but solid with meaty somewhat muscular tattooed arms sticking out of his short sleeve tee shirt and leather vest. He had a goatee about the color of mine, and short-cropped hair about the color of mine. He was very tan from being outside and wore a scowl across his face as he lumbered through the parked cars. I heard myself say, “Ask him if he’s for Donald Trump.” To which I answered myself, “You idiot.”
So many of us do indeed live in social bubbles which we cohabitate with members of the same socio-economic, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Even in densely populated cities that should be the great antidote for social bubblism, we find the neighborhood, or block, or even the apartment building where people like us live. Churches, which really ought to be the leaven that subverts bubblism from the inside out, are more often than not congregations of the like-minded and socially monocrome.
I tell couples that are preparing for marriage that the single-most important relationship skill is conflict resolution. To show them what I mean, I tell them that when married couples come to see me for counseling the presenting problem is very often “communication.” “We don’t talk any more,“ they say. But in fact, almost always it turns out that the issue is so many unresolved conflicts about issues big and small that to get into one is to get into them all, and so eventually nothing of consequence is discussed.
It seems to me that there are so many basic conflicts we haven’t truly, honestly, openly had as a society that we simply cannot get very far. We end up not talking to one another and retreating into our bubbles only to shout pejorative slogans out the window of Facebook and Twitter and other vehicles removed from a safe distance. Nothing gets resolved and instead of feeling one another’s pain, we steep in blame and resentment.
I don’t know the political solution to all of this, but I do know that the bubbles we live and work and play in are not only symptoms of the problem, they are actually sources of it. Segregation by race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and where it is practiced gender, sows the seeds of our self-destruction. Somehow, some way, we need to pop the bubbles.