The 2016 election and the time thereafter hasn’t created a polarizing climate – it has revealed one. We are in a unique position. Donald Trump won the electoral college, but Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes (and counting). While conflict and caution are showcased each election, it seems that today’s most pressing issues reach beyond policy and can be categorized as moral or humanitarian matters. Issues such as same-sex marriage, women’s rights, health care, and others are being put into question. What’s more, with the recent surge of hate crimes, many such as myself are wondering what can be done.
The mysterious ‘bubble’
The divisive state of our country has already been pointed out. The shocking election result – along with this division – is due largely to the increased control we have over our individual environments, or our ‘bubbles,’ both in physical location and ideology. From our friends to our Facebook feeds, we progressively construct comfortable, risk-free lives, sometimes even unknowingly. In the wake of the election, this term has been used more and more. SNL even created a recent sketch about the bubble.
What exactly makes up our bubbles?
Our bubble is our comfort zone. It’s the environment where we feel accepted, offering an escape from harsh realities. The bubble is an ever-expanding, intertwined combination of factors, including: friends, family, networks, social media, news sources, and more. It can even include our choice of music and personal tastes. In short, it’s anything that we seek for approval, reassurance, or continuity.
Being Jewish in America
Like many, the extent to which I have been living in an isolated environment has only been revealed to me as of late. As a Jew, I’ve rarely felt threatened or scared. Of course there have been tragic events towards my religion and small personal attacks, but for the most part I have felt safe and been comfortable and proud of my identity.
During President-elect Trump’s hate-filled campaign, I started to see the worst of America emerge – and for the first time, I began to realize how my bubble has protected me, and not for the better.
The difference now was that oppressors felt validated and amplified. I watched as hateful individuals morphed into hateful groups willing to publicly attack me and others like myself. Experts have even noted that the post-election hate-crimes were worse than those directly following 9/11.
There were the photos of swastikas (not well-drawn ones). Then, there was the appointment of Steve Bannon, a White-Nationalist and president of Breitbart News. Then a video from the NPI conference in DC which included attendees (Neo-Nazis) giving the Nazi salute and praising, “Hail Trump.” These are precisely the consequences that history has warned us about, and the type of rhetoric that has no place in America, not to mention the Oval Office.
My past personal experiences with anti-Semitism have been one thing, seeing recorded video of a room giving the Nazi salute is a terrifying wake up call. Sadly, there is at least a portion of America who feels this hate, and I have been somewhat oblivious to it.
There is real, valid fear
Even so, I’m not as worried for myself as I am for others – for my Muslim friends who Trump has attacked, for the Minnesota Somali population who he has unfairly disrespected, for the LBTGQ community who may lose fundamental rights as our society regresses, for the women who have to listen to those in power tell them what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, and so many others. These are who I am not only scared for, but angry for. It’s not as if these hateful feelings were created overnight. They have been dormant, to an extent, and are now becoming energized and explicit. A Trump administration may enforce policy – but there are also many citizens who support him doing so.
Like many others, I’ve lost sleep over these thoughts. I’ve wanted to block ‘friends’ on social media, I’ve wanted to turn the TV off and just stress eat until 2020. It’s easy to live inside our bubbles, but it’s not productive.
The bubble is a privilege
Like allowance or new Beyoncé songs. The unfortunate truth is that Trump, his policies, his administration, and his followers will, and already have, hurt citizens. For those of you who can turn off the TV, shrug your shoulders, dismiss others’ worries, and pray that everything will be okay, good for you. Because most of us can’t and won’t do that.
The other day I was having a conversation with someone at a local bar. Naturally, politics came up, because of course. He said that he disliked Trump, but continued with, “I’ve heard some people are scared. I haven’t seen anything that should make people scared. At the end of the day I know I have nothing to worry about. I’m white, male, and Christian.”
Again, having ‘the bubble’ is a privilege. Some people don’t have an escape.
While some are continuing with everyday life as if everything is fine, others are carrying worrisome thoughts in the front of their minds, having conversations about how to avoid deportation or what to do when encountering discrimination.
These are real discussions happening, and we need to acknowledge that.
Seeking total comfort is counterproductive
Living comfortably isn’t a flaw, it’s human nature and how we’re wired. I don’t personally fault or judge anyone for wanting to live in a bubble. I live there. A lot. Probably most of the time. I’m paying rent in the bubble. It should also be noted that some people have to live in a bubble, otherwise they will inevitably be met with hate, disownment, and perhaps even worse. That’s a sad reality that reflects how unaccepting some can be.
But – for those of us who safely can – we have a chance to look passed ourselves as individuals, to benefit society on a large scale. All we have to do is leave our comfort zones a little more often.
Introducing: The Confirmation Bias
The most significant argument for leaving your bubble is a psychological term known as the confirmation bias. The confirmation bias refers to the tendency of seeking, interpreting, or recalling information in a way that confirms what we already know. This partly explains why our country was either shocked by the election results, or not surprised at all.
Through the entirety of the election, the majority of us were simply validating our own opinions – through our family, through our friends, through our news sources, through our social media feeds. Sometimes this was on purpose, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes because of manufactured algorithms that intentionally feed us information related to our values and interests. Thanks, Obama.
The Guardian article written in October is an interesting example of confirmation bias in itself. The headline is correct to an extent, but in the sense that confirmation bias actually misled the public, and most likely the article’s writer, on Trump’s chance of winning. The beginning could actually read, “The end of Clinton.”
Hate is alive (and other fun things to think about before going to bed)
The fact that we were so oblivious to how groups felt only further stresses the importance of leaving our bubbles. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia exists. It’s not enough for us to fight is only when we see it on the news – it starts at the ground level with holding one another accountable and intervening when necessary. But how can we do this when our own networks and circles are so similar to ourselves? How can we fight what we cannot see? Fortunately, there are ways we can change our thinking.
We can leave our bubbles
It’s possible for us to broaden our horizons, seek differentiating perspectives, and ultimately make a large scale change. It just takes a little more work.
Here are 6 ways to start:
- Strive to create meaningful dialogue: When speaking with others, especially those with differentiating viewpoints, look to push past small talk. Ask questions and use personal stories to help illustrate your stance. When it comes to combating oppressive behavior, the best way to change someone’s mind is to establish interpersonal contact – this is known as the ‘contact hypothesis.’ Here is a great article from Vox that explains in detail.
- Expand your physical, and social networks: Many of us are guilty of only following and connecting with those who we can relate to – and why wouldn’t we? After the election I came across an idea I believe to be very smart. Follow 10 (or more) people on your networks who you respect, but who hold different opinions. Interact with these people, challenge them, and let them challenge you, or at least provoke dissimilar thoughts.
- Listen more: I know I could do a better job of this.
- Consume a variety of news: Mix up your news intake with various outlets and publications. Do your research and find out which way certain papers or networks tend to sway, then achieve a healthy balance to cover all viewpoints. It may drive you crazy, but it’s beneficial to at least understand where opposing views are coming from.
- Get politically active: Feeling inspired? A great way to get introduced to other organizations and lifestyles is through leaders who have already pioneered the trail. This doesn’t mean you have to run for office. Get in touch with local organizations or community leaders to see what opportunities are available for participation. This is a great way to stay updated on current events and learn best practices for dealing with certain issues.
- Enforce accountability: Whether online or in person, when we do see hateful rhetoric or discrimination, it’s important that we speak up and hold others accountable – letting them know that this type of behavior is not tolerated. This is the alternative to blocking, de- friending, muting, or avoiding conflict altogether – those are all actions that are done in the bubble. You can reach out to local officials or community leaders to find bystander intervention classes and discussions.
Be bold and be brave
There’s nothing wrong with needing to take a break and recharge. Sometimes it’s even necessary for our own sanity. But permanent, habitual bubble-inhabitancy is dangerous. By packing a bag and traveling outside of our bubble we can foster new ideas, change minds for the better, create needed dialogue, and dismantle hateful behavior. But the first step to action is awareness, and while uncomfortable, awareness requires us to be in a position where we can explore – and that’s done best beyond our best friends and loyal followers.
I’m pledging to leave my bubble more often; will you?
Follow Jon on Twitter @savittj