When I was an adjunct professor of in (what used to be called) the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Indiana University, one of the lessons I constantly impressed upon my students was this: get out of your bubble.
What I meant was that each student sees the news through their own prism and gets information from a select group of sources. So it’s important not to think that one EVER has the full story. There’s ALWAYS another viewpoint to consider, always another person to ask about their individual experience.
I’ve thought a lot about this in the last week, leading up to yesterday’s signing of a bill by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
Before I go any further, let me say I’m not going to express my beliefs on this bill in public. The ten-foot pole with which I normally wouldn’t touch topics like this seems insufficient. I wouldn’t touch this one with a pole that’d reach from West Lafayette to the Kuiper Belt. As a journalist friend of mine said yesterday, we have a responsibility to maintain an almost monastic silence on issues where many others express their beliefs (an appropriate comparison, in light of the subject matter, I thought).
But I am, for a moment, going to ask each of you to step outside your bubble — which is going to be much more difficult than you think. It’s tough to know all the ways we’re sheltered from the views of others, it’s hard to cause yourself not to reflexively analyze an issue in your traditional way and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know how everyone else feels.
So as you’re thinking about the issue du jour that’s gripped my social media feeds and yours, try some of these strategies:
- If you’re part of some faith tradition, ask someone of a different one what they think
- Do the same with someone who has a different gender or sexual identity than you do
- If you’re in favor of the bill, ask yourself this question: “Is it possible there are unintended consequences that I could help address by taking some action?”
- If you’re against the bill, ask yourself this: “Is it possible there’s persecution of groups other than the ones to which I belong or with which I identify?”
Next, remember there are bubbles we fit into which we struggle to control. These include genetic factors, family history, geography, the people we’re exposed to in our formative years and the media in our immediate sphere.
But I mention these not to place blame. For instance, even though you can only see a small cross-section of newscasts on your local cable provider, that doesn’t mean you can’t consume other media from elsewhere. This doesn’t release the media from its obligation to try to get stories right, but neither does it mean Governor Pence can blame the media for allegedly tarnishing this story or any other.
So to get out of your bubble, release yourself from the blame game. Focus not on the fact you think someone is wrong, but instead on why they might think they’re right. Is there common ground between you and them? What might each of you know that the other does not?
Each interaction, either personal or electronic, is its own bubble. By definition, communication is a two-way street. The basis of communication theory is that if there’s not BOTH a message sender and a message receiver, it’s not communication. Internet communication has made too many people ASSUME they’re being received, so we care less about facilitating the exchange and making sure we’re understood exactly as we intended. So when the inevitable game of telephone begins, that spawns its own bubble offspring (as when many people started saying this week that gaming convention Gen Con had decided to pull out of Indianapolis if RFRA was passed — it hadn’t).
Lastly, when trying to escape the bubble bath that is our modern, interconnected life, try to figure out what you know to be unassailably true (hint: it’s less than you think, no matter the topic). One’s personal experiences don’t define truth, and that’s easy to forget in a debate such as this week’s when emotions are so high. We may think we see patterns — and patterns do help define reality — but they’re only one factor of whether something is true.
Here’s the text of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Read it. This much we KNOW is true — this, unquestionably, is what the bill says. Start there. Once you get to interpretation of the bill, you’re a half-step away from the truth and you’re into another bubble, even if you’re right.