Getting Out of Our Bubbles

by Mark Gilbert

Way too many of us live inside an information bubble. We surround ourselves with people who think, talk and act very similarly to ourselves. Our media sources of information tend to present to us a view of the world that's very much in alignment with how we already think.

So, what's wrong with this?

After all, it's very comfortable hanging out - both in person and through the media - with those who are "like us". They feed back to us what we want to hear and reinforce the sense that what we believe "is right".

Psychologists have a term called the "confirmation bias" which describes our tendency to seek out information which already agrees with what we believe to be true. When taken too far, we can develop what is called "attitude polarization"- where we interpret ambiguous information so as to agree with our preconceived beliefs leading to even larger and more entrenched gaps between two ways of thinking about an issue. Place individuals with this attitude polarization inside groups of like-minded people and they collectively tend to experience something called "group polarization" - this leads people to making decisions and forming opinions that are more extreme than when they are alone.

Living in a bubble tends to divide us rather than unite us!

Comedian Bill Maher likes to describe individuals on the far right wing side of the political spectrum as living in a bubble when they don't allow any outside information that doesn't already agree with their position to penetrate their belief system. If we're not careful, no matter what our political persuasion, we can insulate ourselves from other viewpoints and facts that don't simply confirm our beliefs which can stagnate our personal development and our greater understanding of the world.

I know I have experienced this from time to time. After retiring from my role with the government, I found myself moving exclusively in circles of "spiritually minded" people. These individuals reinforced my view of the world - that we are all connected, that love and kindness towards one another will prevail, that we each want the greatest and highest good for one another and so on. The more I was around this group, the more I separated myself from those who saw life differently. Life became very comforting but imagine the shock to my system when I bumped into someone who was not continuously loving and supportive!

No matter what you believe about life --- from evangelical Christian to atheist, from very traditional to very progressive, from very ascetic to very materialistic, from very optimistic to very pessimistic....and every other categorization of human beliefs and everything in between --- when you get around others who are "not like you", it can be a bit uncomfortable! Yet it is in getting out of your "comfort zone" that you tend to meet your "growing edge", that juicy area of life where you discover something new about yourself and the world. This is where you are called to evolve!

Living in a bubble stops our personal growth!

In time, I had to force myself out of my bubble and interact with people with different worldviews. Yes, it's not always as comfortable as hanging out with people who see life like me. But I can attest to the fact that it is much more enriching to experience a variety of opinions if I approach it with an open mind and an interest in understanding why others think and feel as they do.

Furthermore, if I truly believe that we are all connected, then I have to fully accept the truth that I am connected to those who are different from me. That means not simply believing it in "theory" but living it in "reality" -- I need to move in life consciously in a way that allows me to truly experience a wide variety of opinions.

There is a great and wondrous variety in the multiplicity of life and my segregating myself from it limits my experience of the infinite ways that life expresses. To be clear, I don't have to immerse myself in that which I do not prefer. I can still have healthy boundaries towards that which is not beneficial to me. I can still say "no" when it is necessary. But I can be open to listening to others, to seeking to understand why and how others think as they do, to seeking common ground and connection where I can find it.

So how can you get out of the bubble?

Here are three simple suggestions:

Explore news sources other than the ones you generally use. If you listen to news slanted to the right, try listening to news from a left perspective -- and vice versa. Alternatively, consider checking out news sources that present multiple perspectives such as the news weekly The Week or the website allsides.com.

Create situations where you interact with people who you perceive are different from you. Take a class or visit a "meet up" group that will move you in new circles of people.

Attend or create a dialogue group designed to bring you into discussion with people of different viewpoints. The Living Room Conversations process is a good way to create an open and honoring space to talk with individuals with other viewpoints. Check out their website for more information and tools for assisting you in creating such an opportunity.

Finally, if and when you get outside the bubble, consciously use that time to create connections. This is not a time to attack others or defend your beliefs. Create the intention to be open and understanding --- to listen so as to comprehend the other's viewpoint. Do as Stephen Covey counseled us in his famous "habits" --- "seek first to understand, then to be understood."

It's hard to understand others when you are stuck in a bubble!

Mark Gilbert served in various leadership positions with the Federal government for 33 years before becoming a writer and spiritual teacher. He is the author of four books including Be Yourself - Evolving the World through Personal Empowerment. He publishes the website Conscious Bridge (www.consciousbridge.com) which offers articles, videos, audios and other resources designed to move us towards a world that works for all. He serves on the board of the Coffee Party USA, hosts a radio program on the Coffee Party's network called Conscious Bridge Radio, is an ordained New Thought minister and serves as the Global Services Coordinator for the headquarters of Centers for Spiritual Living.