Listening Outside Our Bubbles

I’ve been considering our circles of socialization in life and how our circumstances influence our thought and belief system and our influence on others.

Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning with Kerri Miller interviewed Howard Fineman: Senior Washington correspondent and columnist for Newsweek and author of “The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.”

While I have not yet read his book, in the broadcast, “Divided, and United, By Debate” he talked about the importance of debating issues. Essentially, he says that as a nation we have been “born and bred to argue” about fundamental things that we may craft and participate in the political system of our government.

In my view that participation in talking and listening to one another is a means to “figure out” what’s working and what’s not, what we believe and what we don’t, and what is right and what is wrong, not only in politics or government but any aspect of our culture and modern lifestyle. However, as I try to live, talk, write and listen to create a conversation about ideas, I continue to bump into a barrier in all my circles that I haven’t been able to put into words.

Here are Fineman’s words:

There is a whole bubbling conversation taking part in a million different directions every day. My concern is not that the lack of sophistication is there—although that’s a problem sometimes—it’s that there’s a tendency for people stay in their own bubble, that whatever is reassuring to them, they’re constantly in it and they’re not getting out and listening to other people.

It is more comfortable to be in a bubble of people who are like-minded because we can relate to what they are dong and thinking. I have discovered this comfort zone in any community I’ve ever entered whether it be in a leadership capacity, a class at the gym, a neighborhood, church or even in the blogosphere. It feels awkward when we see a group of people around us that seem to fit together and we are on the outside of that. However, the more important point is that when we are in a bubble, it is difficult to see who and what are on the outside of it.

Fineman’s solution is to get out and listen to other people. While he admits that “most people would say that the hardest thing for any human being to do is to listen,” I would say that in my experience it is even more challenging to take the first step, to get out.

Can I really remove myself long enough from my own circumstances, concerns, insecurities and beliefs to get out of the bubble and see and hear those around me who have different circumstances, concerns, insecurities and beliefs?

On the broad scope of debating he suggests accepting the “fundamental humanity of the other people who are speaking.” On a more personal note, I suggest listening occurs more effectively when we let go of our own defensiveness.

Ultimately, the small ways I move outside my own thoughts, perspectives and conversations to listen to others enlightens my belief system to expand and strengthen it. Unfortunately, I realize I still only occasionally really listen outside my own bubbles and feel hampered in popping those bubbles altogether.

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1 Comment

  1. Ryan
    Jun 23, 2008

    Very interesting discussion. I guess I have no problem with hanging out in my circles of security if it means a greater peace of mind for myself; however, that may not be the best. I don’t know. I do know I’ll pay a high price for safety, in whichever form it may come.

    This isn’t to say I don’t like to argue and hear another point of view. But when threatened, I’m happy to know I have a place to run!

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