This week’s Courier Herald column:
As my regular readers know, I spend a lot of my time – perhaps even too much – on politics. Others who also professionally or personally do the same dominate my social media feeds. Too many of my personal interactions involve the topic and those involved in it.
Once upon a time there was a saying for those in Washington that became obsessed with politics and spent all of their time around those who also let their personal and professional lives revolve around it. They were said to be trapped in the “beltway bubble”.
The rise of the internet and social media have extended the bubbles which now have no geographic boundaries. We’ve been able to segregate ourselves into groups of people that think, act, and are like us. We are able to quickly find others who will reinforce what we believe, and cheer us along as we diminish those who attempt to offer a different perspective. No matter how serious or trivial the issue, we can quickly have our beliefs affirmed.
It wasn’t always this way. As a reminder, I took a 7-hour drive with my mother and teenage nephew to coastal North Carolina last weekend. It is a trip I’ve been making my entire life – out I-20 from Atlanta to Florence South Carolina, North on I-95 to Lumberton, and then another couple hours of state highways and back roads to various farms and small towns near Camp LeJune.
There’s not much to see on that drive. Most pine trees look the same after the first few hundred, much less after 7 hours of them. But with three generations in the car for 1100 miles over three days there was plenty of time to get outside my own “bubble” and reconnect with members of my immediate family as well as those we visited along the way.
There were many stories. Most I was familiar with but it was the nephew’s first visit to see where his grandmother was from. She did not have an easy upbringing, and her mother’s was even more challenging. Life has grown easier in many ways for the generations that have come since.
I found that much of my trip ended up being dedicated to try and translate what was being said and seen into a manner that it could be digested into something real and with perspective for a 13 year old that would have realistically rather kept his thoughts transfixed on his electronic devices. No matter the age, we all have our bubbles. It takes willingness and a conscious effort to get out of them.
I’ll admit that I’m often not good at that myself. Having a job that revolves around social media and an ever-present 24-hour news cycle it’s easy to pretend that reading or writing the next story is what’s important. The next two weeks are a time for all of us to remind ourselves that it is not.
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas are not holidays focused on us as individuals. They are celebrations meant for family and friends. They are, at their core, inclusive events.
If your family is like mine, you’ll have more than a couple of opinionated and strong willed folks at your dinner table in the next couple of weeks. Some may even want to talk about politics. Some you won’t be able to stop if you tried. That’s fine.
But instead of treating the event like it’s a live version of Facebook, where you can’t wait to reply with a striking comment of how wrong they are, take a good look at them while they’re talking. Take a good listen too.
As you’re listening, remember why they’re at the table. They’re there because they’re loved, and because they love the same folks you do. Chances are they share the same hopes and goals for those gathered, even if they would prefer different paths and are at different stations in life.
If you can remember that, then it will be a lot easier to actually listen to what is being said. You may learn something new. You may be able to understand them better so that later you can relate your perspective to them in such a way that would make it more real for them.
And if you can make that work, then when you return to your bubbles after the holidays it might be fun to try that on some of those you encounter with whom you don’t agree. Until then, may you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.