When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.
Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.
This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.
My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.
The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.
This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.