We all have our bubbles. I know that. We choose friends who think like we do. And I know there are people out there who think differently. That’s okay. That’s great, in fact.
Because that’s what makes humans so freaking awesome, right? Our diversity. And because fundamentally I’m a curious bird, I have over the decades read a fair bit of the incomprehensible, because I need to know what makes people tick. What drives someone to – well. Anything, really. Anorexia, cutting, BDSM, polyamory, OCD, addiction, religion, math – all things I do not practice or want to practice – but by god I want to understand why someone else does it, and so I read and read and read.
It’s not just people, though: I also want to understand the world, and the things people have learned that I haven’t had time to study. In recent years this has led me to read everything I can get my hands on about quantum physics and cosmology, not because I have dreams of becoming a quantum physicist but because once you hear about quantum entanglement, how can you not want to wrap your head around that? (Have I mentioned, I have a bad case of intellectual over-excitability?)
I don’t, for a moment, think I fully grasp any of this. My understanding of self-harm, for instance, is based on words on a page and a reasonable degree of empathy, but I get that I don’t truly know what it feels like to sit there holding an emotional pain so big, so intense, that slicing into my skin with a scalpel comes as a relief. As for quantum: I love the idea, but I accept (grudgingly) that I will never understand the math that describes why or how physicists know that the photons are acting in unison.
In short, I know what I don’t know.
Most of the folks in my bubble are the same way. We’re all hyper-educated and well-traveled, and we know our limits. We all tend to slip towards thinking we know less than we do.
This week, though, I came up against the first person I’ve ever met who thinks she already knows enough. A person who has formed opinions based on “doing my own research” (ie, watching YouTube) and who has a whole constellation of “reasons” why she doesn’t have to accept any evidence that might require her to change her mind – including that she feels “attacked” when presented with some of that evidence.
I’m floored. I mean, how do you have a conversation with that? I don’t mean, “how can I change this person’s mind, in those circumstances” – well, obviously, I sort of do mean that, because I’m a recovering academic and you bet we are all about changing people’s minds, especially when they are so obviously, patently, bloody, WRONG.
But I mean, how can I wrap my head around it? How can we have communication? She’s not, I think, fundamentally a bad person, although – given her views on refugees, the Greens, governments, trans people and atheists – she is certainly a sheltered, frightened person. But she is also, like myself, a mother concerned for her child’s future, a home-schooler, and a voter. There has to be some connection, right? Not by avoiding the tough conversations but by being able to hear without springing to the defensive.
In the abstract I know that the key here is to take my ego completely out of it: to put myself wholly in a position of fascination, not frustration. Because only genuine wonder – asking from a truly curious, completely non-judgemental point of view – can get inside her head enough to understand why she’s so attached to her
thoroughly misguided worldview.
As you can see, I’m failing.
I’m failing not just because frustration (how can anyone be so – so – so – AARGH!), but because I feel attacked, too. And I think I’m going to have to spend some time sitting with that, to unpack all the reasons why I feel attacked, so that I can let go of the dumbfounded and the angry, move forwards and learn to hear. To talk, sure, but mostly, to hear.
There’s a part of me that thinks, “oh fuck it, why should I bother, she’s an idiot, why waste the time?”
But a bigger part of me knows that every time someone thinks that – stays in their bubble – the walls between us grow a little bit higher. And that is a far greater threat to us all, than someone merely thinking differently.