I was born and raised in East Texas: an area where the first day of hunting season is a local holiday for businesses and a prayer in Jesus’ name is said at the beginning of a public school’s pep rally. An area where high school football is a religion of its own: my school’s stadium has a higher capacity than Cameron, and you can bet it was filled to the brim every Friday night.
I was always the odd one out growing up: I prefer futbol to football, I’ve never shot anything, and I’m Jewish. While I love things like singing country music at the top of my lungs with friends while driving down a county road, eating Tex-Mex at least three times a week, and going on Whataburger runs at one in the morning, I tend to have a completely contrasting set of beliefs and opinions from my friends. There is no way I could even begin to list every time I got into a disagreement about pro-choice vs pro-life, whether or not climate change is something we should care about, and how much or how little the government should be allowed to implement policies that mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
In my town, people decided that COVID didn’t exist after May of 2020.
2020 Trump rally on Lake Tyler that gathered hundreds of boats and was praised in local paper during the height of the pandemic
I dreamed of the day when I could attend a school far from home in order to meet people that I figured would be more open-minded than those in my hometown. I genuinely believed that the only people who lived in a bubble were the people in Tyler, Texas - a town where more than 75 percent of my friends’ parents attended the same high school as we did.
It turns out people from all over the country and all over the world live in bubbles: they just come in all different shapes and sizes. This became apparent the first time I FaceTimed my future roommate about a month before we moved to Durham. We both agreed that we were ready to get away from our respective hometowns that people always seemed to get stuck in. We were both tired of the suffocating feeling of a small town where everyone is so similar.
While I was relieved to find someone that felt the exact same way that I did, I was puzzled by the fact that we had similar experiences while growing up in opposite parts of the country. I remember telling her how excited I was for college because I had never met someone my age that was also Jewish, yet she had pretty much never met anyone that was not.
How could one of us be from Texas and one of us be from New York, thousands of miles away from each other, yet both feel trapped in a bubble?
We are naturally drawn to people who look like us, talk like us, and think like us. Who wouldn’t be? Who would make the conscious decision to live in a place where very few people, if any at all, are like you?
It’s more comfortable and enjoyable to be around like minded people, but we end up trapping ourselves in these homogenous circles. We have continued to reinforce the sharp cultural, religious, and political divides that exist in our country by staying with what is familiar.
As of 2019, six in ten Americans lived in the state they were born in. And according to a New York Times article from 2015, a survey of older Americans showed that the typical American only lives eighteen miles away from their mom. For some, this immobility is related to low income or a lack of access to higher education. But, there are still a large number of college-educated Americans that don’t give up the familiarity of home. In states such as Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio, as many as 62 percent of college graduates went to an in-state university and stayed in the state they were born in after school.
Since arriving at school, I have met so many people that come from bubbles that are completely different from mine: I’ve met people who have never in their life encountered someone who votes red. I’ve met people who have never heard anyone say y’all. I’ve met people that can’t fathom being friends with someone that goes to religious services every week.
At first I thought, “this is such a refreshing change!” But recently I’ve been unnerved by the blindness displayed by some of my peers on both sides of a variety of issues.
People at Duke are shocked by the thought of someone whose political beliefs do not match their own. Abortion is currently one of the most polarizing subjects between political parties, especially in my home state. We tend to assume that anyone who doesn’t share our opinion is a terrible person with little appreciation for human life, whether that be the baby or the mother. However, according to a Gallup, Inc. poll taken in May of 2021, the difference in percentages of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” or “pro-life” is only two percent. No one has a sufficient majority. The numbers are so close, but we tell ourselves that our opinion is the only correct one because we are used to conversing with people who agree with us, or tuning out those who don’t.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, yet so many of us cannot bear the thought of being on the opposite side of the coin. At home, I’m used to people painting all Democrats as “snowflakes” who will believe whatever is trending on Twitter, CNN, or the New York Times. In college, I’ve become used to people claiming that being racist and selfish are intrinsic traits for all Republicans.
Duke itself is a bubble of its own. As a university where most amenities are accessible on campus, we rarely have to venture outside into the “real world.” We tend to think of Durham as 9th street: a perfectly curated avenue lined with sweet little brunch spots and college apartments. We are blind to things like poverty, crime, and inequality inside of our little 1600-acre shell when they are in fact very prevalent issues in Durham and North Carolina as a whole.
Life is a lot easier when you surround yourself with people who are like you so you can avoid tough conversations. I’ve experienced the isolating feeling of living in a place where everyone else seemed to be the same except for me. I know that I’ve craved a place where people are more like me for years.
But if no one ever challenges the way we think, we will have very little basis for our beliefs. We will just roll with whatever makes intuitive sense or with whatever our friends think. If no one ever asks you, “why do you believe x, y, or z?” then it is pretty likely that you won’t even have a valid answer to this question. The answer might just be something along the lines of “well that’s what my parents/family/friends believe.”
Challenging yourself to pop your bubble enhances your understanding of the other side. Living in a town like Tyler has taught me how to understand why people are pro-life, why people are against strict gun control, or why people believe it should be up to an individual to decide how they react to COVID. Even though these aren’t my own opinions, I have learned why some are still just as valid as my own.
I was recently posed with the question: What are some things that prevent you from learning or asking questions? As an incredibly stubborn person, one answer that came to mind was unwillingness to change my mind.
When we believe we are right about something, it isn’t easy to hear someone tell us they believe something completely opposite. Virtually no one enjoys being proven wrong or having their beliefs challenged, but you never know when you can learn something new from someone else. We will continue to become more and more divided if no one makes the active choice to converse with people that think differently from themselves. Go into difficult conversations with the intent of being an active listener. Be open to opposing ideas, it is so much more productive than just trying to change someone else’s mind. This is what allows for personal growth.
After all, growth cannot happen if you never have the courage to pop your bubble.