I love the freedom of spontaneous travel. Get in the car (or train, or bus) and go, without really knowing where you are headed. Recently, just such a foray took me well outside of my bubble. I ventured into a part of the country which, while not geographically far from my home, is worlds away politically, socially, and economically.
I expected to feel alienation and distance from the people there. I expected a tribal feeling of strangeness. I expected to be pickled in resentment toward their foolishness, their destructiveness, and their ignorance.
Will it surprise you to read that I did not? Of course, these people are the opposition, those on the other side, responsible for the world's ills. Right?
What I saw were people. Folks who feel the EXACT same kinds of frustration and alienation that my tribe feels: If only the "other side" would demonstrate some common sense. If only the people who vote differently would see that their real interest lies over here, where I live. If only the powers that be understood real people, with legitimate claims on resources, instead of worrying about the desires of strangers.
I saw hard-working young people with enthusiasm and drive. I saw exhausted-looking middle agers making the best of meager means. I saw community leaders striving to bring opportunity, with mixed success.
What I saw were ordinary, kindly-enough people who just want control over their lives, safety for their communities, and a sense that their interests are being considered in the halls of power.
Who doesn't want those things?
I wanted to feel smug, and right, and superior. But I can't. I feel compassion, and respect, and worry. Who knows what our divisions will lead us into? One thing I know; folks I disagree with act based on perfectly reasonable ideals. They want good things, even if I sometimes can't relate to their methods.
I encourage all of us to leave our bubbles, as often as possible. It is not always easy, or comfortable. But if we are going to create any kind of functioning future together, we must learn to see the opposition as human, as people with legitimate values, even if their methods infuriate us.
When we see ourselves clearly, and our behavior as a reflection of our real goals, we can begin to steer toward the future we want. By remaining in comfortable darkness, pretending that reality is somehow removed from our day to day actions, things go wrong. In personal terms, people who want to do creative work wind up estranged from their real desires, lost and in pain, because they are not making space in their day for creative work. In political terms, we run headlong into the world we imagine, not realizing that others are willing to stick a foot out and trip us if they feel left behind.
Just as we do with our own monsters, who seduce us to do things that seem off the path to our goals, we would benefit by looking, listening, and trying to see the fear under the noise. When a monster comes to light, it is almost always trying to protect us from harm, from shame, or from failure. This metaphor is all too easy to apply in the world today. The solution is to go to the monster, and be present. Believe me, it loses all its power in the light of true curiosity.
Try leaving your bubble, without the filter of media or the safety of smugness. It won't kill you. And you will definitely learn something; possibly compassion, possibly even the freedom to let go of anger and move forward.
In my work as a coach, I have seen over and over how simply being seen and known changes people. It is like sun on a plant; they feel instantly stronger and more capable. We need to offer that power to others, counter-intuitive as it might appear.
Fear multiplies itself. Let's temper it with curiosity, and a willingness to listen. One thing is sure; it couldn't hurt.