Observations on Bubbles, Boxes and Walls

Me, Assisi, Italy

This post Feels Like a Church Talk. I am not sure that is ok, and I am sorry if it does. Feel free to weigh in. YES! I spend way too much time pondering the following question: How can we find a middle? Can we hold space for healthy boundaries and sincere empathy? Can we have healthy bubbles (boundaries) while earnestly inquiring, and then actively listening? Before jumping to steadfast conclusions, can we see the world through someone else’s lens first? I think so.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Here is what I came up with (observed) — Feel free to pushback 😊:

In tandem with politics and beyond religion, I think 99% of us see our everyday world through a very fixed lens. In fact, the other day I clumsily tried my best to penetrate someone’s worldview. My guess is the other person would have preferred I had kept my bubble-bursting mouth shut. Nevertheless and to their credit, they engaged in further discussion and then admitted that they had most definitely put me in a box. Honestly, I was shocked they so easily defined me. I sincerely thought we were like-minded individuals. Selfishly, I kept thinking, “I thought they knew me.” Instead, I misjudged them.

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

It seems like we humans are much more comfortable in our own protective bubble (myself included). I would even suggest that we have a potpourri of valid reasons and not-so-valid rationalizations as to why EVERYONE ELSES’ BUBBLE is not safe; is naive, bad, dumb, mentally unstable, unworthy, less-than, too Boomer, or does not tell enough dad jokes. We are human. That is why I think that alternately, we let our own bias dictate the terms of how we see you and how we hear you. We decide how you think, if you are cool and if you are worthy enough.

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

As a result, when someone outside of our personal bubble speaks, I wonder if we really listen. Better, I think we may have our answer before they open their mouth. Even if we tell ourselves that we are like the most open minded, open hearted, nuanced, non-status-conscious, non-racist, Christlike, or supporting-the-underdog person ever born, many of us do not hear or do not believe what we hear. I think that is because we already know our answers before you ever open your mouth. Then, (because we are working on our own response to show you that you are wrong), we decide what your words, we were not really listening to, mean. And now that we know what your words and intent mean, we decide what bubble you fit into. You are now done and dismissed. Full disclosure: I extra do this with tall women, especially those approaching 6’. Before I really listen, I assume they will bully me with their tall womanness (*not a real word), and then I tune them out. (I am not kidding.)

Dave, Salt Lake City, Utah

This weird communication feedback loop is why I would suggest that if someone comes close to popping our bubble, instead of allowing our view to expand, we deflect and retreat. We steadfastly dig our heels in, and do whatever it is we do to make our own bubbles more impenetrable. We roll our eyes. We offer (half-hearted) apologies. Then we circle back on said apology (by of course by subtly blaming you). We indignantly purse our lips, force a smile to let you know we are over it. (We are not over it.)

Obviously, all these behaviors signal:

“I am right! You are wrong!”

Dave and I, San Marino

Arguably, that is why when we hold fast to our own lens, we do not inquire. Better, we do not receive your words. Instead we are looking you over and then we are working out our own response while you speak. We judge. We totally judge. Let’s use me, for example. You look at me. What do you see? An average-sized, middle-aged, blond woman. Do I look safe? Do I look snobby? Do I look friendly? Do I seem worthy? Do I seem dumb? Probably. To some, I am certain I look like a follower. To others, I bet I look like someone who wants to let society raise my kids. To others, I look like (and I know because I’ll quote the characterization verbatim) “a skinny blond bitch.” Honestly, as someone who struggles with her body image, I will take the “skinny blond bitch” comment any day.

Me, San Marino

Beyond my looks, what happens when I speak? What do I sound like? To some, I am told I sound bossy and way too direct. To others, I seem friendly. To some, I seem shy and socially awkward. I think I still sound overly Midwestern and way too pedestrian (simple). Inescapably, I am sure I am a mishmash of all of your judgements (and my own). I also know it goes both ways. I totally judge. Ask Dave. I even have nicknames for the people I judge like, “The Mormon Moms,” “Drunk Mom,” “The Bat Shit Crazy Lady,” “Cat Stroller Lady,” (This one is just an observable fact. She does in fact walk her cat in a stroller),“Vinyl Gloves Lady,” “Dab Pen Mom,” and “Pervy Dad.” (It seems I am around women more than men, or maybe I judge women more than I do men. What’s up with that?)

Dave & I, San Marino

Hold on. It is not all bad. Humanity as a whole definitely does not suck. I also believe there is hope. I am sure there is some sort of innate Darwinian necessity which forces us to quickly access threats to protect us from danger. Twelve thousand years ago, those very same discernment tools saved us from saber tooth tigers every single day. Nevertheless, I wonder if this survival instinct has evolved into some sort of self-segregating, “My-team-is-the-best-team,” protection mechanism. Yes. There are bad people. And yes, healthy boundaries are the pathway to love and happy living.

Me, Assisi, Italy

Ultimately, as our world seems to be falling apart around us, I think thinning our bubble layer and uniting are our best hopes. We are stronger together. Really, we are. In fact, just as surely as snap judgements helped our prehistoric ancestors survive, working together was inevitably the primary way they survived saber tooth tiger attacks and took down mastodons. As we work to unite, we can pause and remember that words and the intent behind them have different implications. From personal experience, I would also offer that appearances are not everything. Meaning, your short, blond neighbor may be drinking a forbidden beverage and may also be really nice. The man in the hoodie may just be cold. And that sharp-looking man, the one who never misses a church meeting, may actually be hitting his wife. To everyone: lighten up! (myself included). Rest assured, most of us live in the middle. Look around. Pause. Listen. Connect. We are more aligned than we are different.

Me, Gubbio, Italy

And for me, I would suggest if I would give tall women a chance, I may actually see their benefits, like they could totally get me a plate down from a high cupboard.

In the end,

United we stand. Divided we definitely seem to be falling.