We all have our bubbles

Post-election, there has been a lot of blame to go around. In the media and political world, it’s a free-for-all. 

The biggest thing that stands out to me as I reflect back on election night coverage is the bubble so much of the media lives in. When they did the post mortem through the remainder of the week, they would say weak things like, “Well, we sent reporters into the field.”

But we all have our bubbles. Let’s just call them echo chambers.

In the Midwest, in Appalachia, in Manhattan, we have our echo chambers. We create them in our communities, we create them online. And so we avoid tough conversations. We stick to our echo chambers.

J.D. Vance has a huge bestseller out called Hillbilly Elegy. Vance isn’t old enough to remember Ronald Reagan, but he writes as someone who grew up in Appalachia and “made it out.” It’s a reflection on life in a part of America we may talk about , but a lot of people don’t know about.

Actually, not true. A LOT of people know about these places because they live there. I’ve lived there, in a way. I choose to live in a city in a somewhat liberal state, but I grew up in a lot of the life Vance describes. There are good things and there are challenges.

To be sure, even that part of the U.S. has its bubble. It’s hard to get to know anything outside your demographic. It takes work. If you work on it, it can be fun and certainly eye-opening. But it can be just as much a bubble as midtown Manhattan. There is a mentality there that sees news “in the big city” and it’s easy to think it’s crime-ridden. It’s also under sharia law in some places. (I had a guy from central Illinois swear Minneapolis was under sharia law, even when I told him I was from there.)

Yet, it’s life. Real life. It’s not something to be tossed aside just because you don’t understand it, or you perceive it to be racist. For so many, it’s not. It’s just … different.

Vance writes in his book of the challenges he faced growing up and just how hard it was to break that cycle to move on to college. I reflect on many of those challenges from where I grew up in Kansas.

He mentions it was a world of “irrational behavior.” People with no money would buy everything on credit. They would be dead broke watching reality shows on humongous TVs, dreaming of being rich themselves one day.

He reflects on home life being a chaotic mess. Conversations were often shouting matches.

Parenting was often hypocritical. Parents would get on their kids for bad behavior, and then go exhibit that same bad behavior themselves.

But not all of it was struggle. Vance had the example of his grandparents. They were hard-working and steady. He learned more from his grandparents than his very self-serving mother.

His grandmother taught him tough lessons, and his greatest takeaway was that if he wanted to find good work where he could have hope of picking his time and have weekends with family, he needed a college education. He began to care about his grades.

Hardworking people over the last two generations have lost good paying factory jobs. Dignity has gone out the window. Promises come and go, but good jobs that were the backbone of a region for generations have been long gone. Retooling for new work that would bring good pay back is incredibly uneven. Frustration sets in.

I don’t say any of that to give any reason for any kind of vote. I say it because I hope you read that and thought, “Well, I didn’t grow up in that part of the country, but I sure identify with some this (or all of it).”

That’s what I hope. Because then maybe… just maybe… we’ll start to learn we don’t need to FEAR each other or get aggravated with each other. We may just talk to each other.

I reflect on stories like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which tells the story of Eastern Europeans in the slaughterhouses of Chicago in the early 1900s. When I get people telling stories of how their grandparents or great-grandparents came over from Europe and worked in places like that, or farmed in hard places, the story is so good. They talk of their families coming over, working really horrible jobs and gaining some money… for what? To make their kids lives better. That’s what they want.

Those stories still go on. In Minnesota, it’s still “slaughterhouses” in a way. It’s turkey processing plants in rural areas. Jobs that are tough, long hours, and don’t pay the greatest. It’s in small industry places in the Twin Cities. First generation adults working in hard places to do the best they can… for what? To make their kids lives better.

The stories are the same… but 100 years ago it was Eastern Europeans. Today… it’s Somalis. And somehow, we can’t see the parallel. But it’s there. We think in grander terms of Eastern Europeans, and maybe it’s because they were our families, so somehow that’s “better,” but they struggled with oppression as well. If they came from Germany and were here with a thick German accent in 1917… those were not good times to identify yourself as German.

Friends, the stories are the same. From generation to generation they are good stories. Stories of struggle. In the Midwest, in the urban cores of the Northeast, there are these stories of struggle and triumph. “Making it” shouldn’t label you “elite.” Struggling through without college shouldn’t label you “uneducated.”

We have good stories to tell. And we have more in common than we realize. But the common thing we’ve used that keeps us divided is this: our bubbles.

In my view, this is where the Church should shine. We should be about bursting bubbles. It’s not always easy. I burst bubbles in my church and there are some that don’t like it. I challenge… and I am challenged. I push… and I get pushed. But when I get pushed, I get better.

Let’s not back off from each other. Let’s hear each other out and find the common good that really exists in our country. It’s there. We’re just needing a reminder to get back to what makes America great.

Pope Francis lies as he prays during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Pope Francis lies as he prays during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, March 29, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi (VATICAN – Tags: RELIGION)

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