We are born into a bubble. That bubble is created by our immediate family, parents, grandparents and perhaps siblings. We learn about, and get used to, OUR people, our climate, our food, our Gods, and our politics. If we are born into an extended family there might be an uncle or aunt who doesn’t fit into the bubble, the black sheep of the family. They might introduce us to elements beyond our bubble…
As we grow, the bubble may expand a little bit to include a larger community. Depending on where we live that community might be a mono culture, in which case the bubble can become a bit tougher. If the community is multi-cultural we might make a friend who comes from a different bubble. This may provide an opportunity to create an escape hatch in our bubble, or may make the bubble thinner, even diaphanous. On the other hand our bubble can be reinforced by the schools we go to, or the sport we might elect to play.
In order to see beyond, or venture out of that bubble, something has to pierce the bubble in the first place – otherwise it is nearly impossible to see outside it. This can happen when a parent talks about other cultures, when a teacher suggests a book about another land, or when we discover the joys of the library, with its hallways that lead to views that are different from the views our family might hold. (((there is a reason why some governments want to ban books – books bust bubbles))) A movie might introduce us to something different that beckons to us, or perhaps we simply discover another people’s food. Loving the experience of a strange and foreign food is a powerful introduction to a different culture!
I think there are a number of vector points where the bubble can be pierced. Friendship with a person from a different culture. Finding a book that makes a case for a different bubble… or, if we are lucky, suggests that bubbles are not as necessary as we think. Falling in love with a person from a different culture. Traveling. Music. Food…
I wonder how important TV was in bursting many bubbles. Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes, Sesame Street… TV became a trusted authority and in the process bubbles were, if not pierced, at least enlarged. Then came the World Wide Web. The web allowed us to follow all kinds of tiny bubbles in the form of Internet Forums. Next came Social Media and targeting software and as a result bubbles could become tougher than ever. Now it was possible for people to ONLY read the news and commentary that enforced their bubble. This was made easy by companies like Facebook that figured out that if they gave people what they wanted they would sell more ads and could make piles and piles of money.
Well, it turns out that giving people what they want is not often what is good for us. Our bodies crave sugar, salt and fat. I rest my case. It’s exactly the same with stories and ideas, which are food for the mind. People want to read what reinforces their bubble, their POV, their prejudices… they want the sugar, salt, and fat stories that make them feel alright – at least for the moment. Tomorrow the craving will be even larger… And that is exactly what social media delivers.
I was fortunate in that my grandfather traveled more than most people and while I never got to meet him – he died the year before I was born – I was told about many of his adventures. Grandpa lived in Beijing and Tianjin, China, for many years and used the Trans-Siberian Railway quite regularly. He was an engineer and found work when the Manchurian Railway was built. Later he started a business engineering heating systems and said that he worked on a heating system for the forbidden palace in Beijing. He even designed barracks for the American soldiers stationed in China – I still have the drawings. There were lots of photos, too. Grandpa took many photos of people and buildings, he even had photos of beheaded bodies lying in the streets during the Boxer Rebellion. These are exciting stories for any boy. Thus when I was nineteen I also spent time on the Trans-Siberian Railway, on my way to Japan.
I was also fortunate that I had a religion teacher in Middle School who, although a Catholic priest himself, spoke in glowing terms about all religions. He introduced my class to a huge number of different religions. Because of him I read about Islam, especially the Sufis, I read parts of the Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, discovered Buddhism, and eventually Zen.
Without such a piercing of the bubble we are likely to remain in place all of our lives. They say that after the age of 25 the only way we are going to speak another language well is if we fall in love with someone from a foreign country. As we get older we may fight an uphill battle against the bubbles that bind us, because our brain loses elasticity with age. That could be a good reason for making an effort to become MORE adventurous as we get older?
In an ideal world, each family, and each religion and culture, would support a child’s discovery of, and introduction to, other peoples, different religions, other cultures, and therefore other ways of looking at life, because they should be confident that their particular bubble is a good way of experiencing life AND if the child might choose a different bubble, or a life in no particular bubble, that this would also be a good choice.