How To Live In The World (Not In A Bubble)

Want to NOT live in a bubble? It can be hard and a little uncomfortable to seek out people and experiences that are different than ours. Here's how.
I’m clicking through one of those quizzes people share on Facebook, feeling preemptively smug.

Click. Click. Click. Self-congratulatory back pat.

My results appear on the page and I grimace. Apparently, that self-congratulatory back pat was not earned.

I scored a 35 on the quiz in question: “Do you live in bubble?”  And if I hadn’t worked as a teacher (“Have you ever had a job that caused you to be on your feet all day?”) or grown up in rural Minnesota (“Have you ever lived for more than a year in a city with fewer than 50,000 people?”) I would have scored a 14.

Good lord, it is easy to surround ourselves with people who look, act, and think like us. It’s so nice to meet all my college-educated, liberal, feminist friends for coffee and validate the ish out of each other’s opinions and life choices! It’s so comfortable to drive my Prius to J Selby’s and order a $10 Buffalo Soy Curl Wrap with my vegan friends!

But – and I know you know this – we don’t grow by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that don’t challenge us.

We don't expand our lives, brains, or hearts by existing in a vacuum or echo chamber. Click To Tweet

So starting now, I’m trying harder to live in the world, not in my “liberal elite” bubble. If you’d like to join me in exiting your bubble, here are six things I’m doing.

6 ways to not live in a bubble

1. Follow 10 people on social media who are different than you

Are you Agnostic or Atheist? Find some people of faith.
Are you a parent? Follow some happily child-free folks.
Are you cisgender? Follow a few trans people.
Are you liberal or progressive? Find some moderates, libertarians, or conservatives to follow.
Are you hippie who joyfully rejects makeup, hair products, and name brand bags? Yup. I’m going to suggest you find some pretty, polished fashion bloggers and follow them.

You can see where I’m going with this.

2. Try a different way to get to work

What’s life like for the millions of Americans who take public transportation to work everyday? Or the people who sit in rush hour, slowly squeezing onto the freeway at those metered lights?

What about those super humans who ride bikes to work?

When I was a teacher, I was lucky enough to walk to work. I was consistently amazed by how grumpy and stressed my colleagues were when they arrived at work after 45 minutes of rush hour driving.

Then I moved, started commuting, and became about a million times more compassionate.

3. Read books, watch tv shows, and listen to podcasts by and for people who are different than you

I’ve spent the last six months listening to the same three podcasts. Who hosts said podcasts? Liberal white ladies who say and believe exactly the same things I do.

When we listen, read, and watch outside of our bubble not only are we expanding our minds, we’re telling publishers, advertisers, and television networks they’re making sound business decisions. We’re voting with our eyeballs, our clicks, and our viewing habits.

Related: Make the world a more inclusive place through your Netflix queue

4. Sit with someone new at lunch

What did Donna in Accounting bring for lunch? What did Ted in Marketing do this weekend?

Getting to know different co-workers makes us more empathetic, more patient, and – honestly – it’s probably good for morale and productivity. If I know Donna’s going through a divorce, I can help her manage her workload or take a few things off her plate. 

5. Run your usual errands in a different neighborhood

I can go to the Midway Target, the Lake Street Target, or the Edina Target.

I can buy my beloved laser-cut underwear at any Target location, but depending on which store I’m at, I’ll overhear different conversations. I’ll surround myself with different people. I’ll navigate a parking lot filled with cars of different price points. I’ll chat with cashiers of different backgrounds. It’s a tiny difference, but it matters.

Just as importantly, spending our money in different neighborhoods can be incredibly effective at rewriting income disparity. A recent study found “by getting people to change just five of 100 trips, the researchers saw the neighborhoods in their experiments become more economically balanced.” 

6. Google ‘arguments for [insert issue here]’ or ‘arguments against [insert issue here]’

Like most people, I’m pretty sure I’m right. Most of the articles I read serve to reinforce the opinions I already hold. It’s reassuring to see my beliefs articulated by people who are smarter than me! It doesn’t, however, do much to expand my horizons or create compassion for people who hold differing opinions.

What if we spent a bit of time searching for intelligent,well-written articles that run completely counter to what we believe?

Giant asterisk: there are some arguments that do, in fact, have a ‘right side.’ There is no real argument for white supremacy. There is no real argument against the science of climate change. So, uh, don’t waste your time on those.

But maybe there are insights we haven’t considered when it comes to international aid, health care policies, or charter schools – or lots of other topics!

We can't develop empathy or create compromise by having our worldview consistently confirmed. Click To Tweet We can become better neighbors, community members, and citizens when we have a slightly better understanding of other perspectives

But I want to hear from you! If you’re honest with yourself, do you live in a bubble? If you don’t, have you made intentional steps to encounter different ideas, people, and mindsets? 

P.S. 19 tiny ways to make the world a better place

Photos by Diego PH and Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

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  1. Renee O'Shanassy

    I <3 everything you write. I wonder if your blog is called yes and yes, because I always end up saying yes and yes. Lets be internet friends 😉

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      <3 <3 <3

  2. Michele

    I’m a meat loving, carb loading, cheese eating food fiend! But I happened upon some very lovely vegetarian, vegan and more health intentional food friends over IG. Because I like ‘them’ so much, they have caused me to be more open minded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going vegan, but I respect those who do in a way I really didn’t before. I’d love to be the carnivore friend you might be looking for to break a small portion of your bubble and mine too. ?

  3. Amber

    I love this Sarah. Important stuff. I feel like I have been lucky to have diverse experiences and people in my life. I also like to question and am not afraid to go against conventional thinking or the thinking of a “group” I’m a part of, which I also feel like is just the cards I drew. I feel grateful for these things as I am a better person for them. Though they have not always made my life EASIER, they have made it better, for sure.

  4. Karen

    I have mixed feelings about this. I definitely prefer books, shows and movies about people who are different than me and this year I’ve started following more leaders of color in the arts and politics. But following right-wingers…. ?
    I have tried to identify a few that I can learn from, but tbh I have a panic attack when I start reading posts that are so contrary to the “peace love & understanding” outlook that I hold dear. I can’t do it and hold onto my sanity at the same time.

    Good post. I will do my best to open myself up further in as many other ways as possible (suggestions are welcome). xox

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I hear you, Karen! And I’m not suggesting you start watching Infowars or anything. I’m Agnostic and I’ve had many, many negative interactions with Christians, so I’m dipping my toe in by following Morgan, Nora, and Jerusalem, all of whom are liberal feminist Christians. They’re an ‘easy’ place to start! 😉

      • Valentina

        One easy way to start is to follow right-wing politicians from your state (or your own congressional district, if that’s the situation!) on social media — those who serve at the federal, state, and local levels. Seeing what they tweet about, who they follow, what they share and ‘like’ is eye-opening and bubble-breaking. I also like to follow moderate right-wing women who push back on Trump, even if they aren’t my cup of tea in every arena. Megan McCain and Ana Navarro are two that I actually enjoy, even if we disagree on plenty.

        • Sarah Von Bargen

          Oooh, yes! Great ideas, Valentina!

  5. Marcia

    I make a point to eat at McDonalds at least once a quarter, even if it’s just some fries, and to actually pay attention to the people who come in. In many neighborhoods, McDonald’s is the community hub, and I’ve learned a lot from doing this. Great post!

  6. Lulu

    Interesting series of questions. I scored a 57. I’m not sure if it reflects other “thinning of the bubble” aspects that I would consider, but I do LOVE a quiz and it gives me something to reflect upon today. Thanks, Sara!

  7. scar

    Yes. I love this post so much. I scored 59 points (although I had to cheat by trying to adapt the answers to the UK, because I’ve never lived in the US).

    I think it’s so important to try to reach outside of our bubbles – my latest post is on a similar subject, looking at how we view the world and why.

    Another thing to consider is other people’s reactions to the way you view your bubble, though. I’ve found there’s quite a backlash when I try to look at opposing views to my own, even if I’m not actually espousing them. I do it anyway because I think it’s important, but people within what might be termed your “natural” bubble can have very strong reactions when they see you looking at other points of view, even if you’re not talking to them about it. (I’m referring for example to following Twitter profiles whose views oppose your own, or adding books to your reading list that go against the political beliefs you hold.)

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes, that’s a great point, Scar. I’m sure I know people who would be ‘scandalized’ that I just read a memoir written by a very Christian blogger. But if anyone attempts to ‘shame’ me for it, I plan to just level my eyes at them and say “I’m trying to read outside of my bubble.”

  8. Linda Brandt

    Timely and useful suggestions. Thank you!

  9. Brittany

    I love this idea. When my husband and I lived in Rhode Island, we lived in an old Mill complex. I called it the adult dorm facility because we were all always hanging out and doing things together. The reason it was a magical place was that we ended up making friends with people that were so varied and different than us. We now have what I consider, “framily” or friends that feel like family that are: older than us by at least one generation, transgender/gay/straight friends, friends with children, friends who adopted, different political views, different tastes in music and movies, vegans, one friend who only just tried ketchup for the first time last year on his plain burger who is still fearful of vegetables, we have friends that look “scary” to some conservatives (piercings/tattoos/different hair) which I adore and very conservative kind ladies who gossip right along side of them! There are faiths of all kinds and levels.
    We were all, and continue to be so….different! But in the most beautiful loving way possible. Thinking differently didn’t stop us from barbecuing by the smokestack together, having game nights, or planning outings as a huge group. It made us unique and special and helped me to learn and appreciate people that think the same and different than me.
    And although I don’t live at the Mills anymore, and many of us have relocated near and far, just last week we all got together to celebrate a new addition to the family, a new baby coming, and the special magic of “different” was there front and center but filled with laughter, love, and kindness.

  10. Chelsea

    Try checking out the Intelligence Squared US Debates podcast. It’s a great way to hear more opposing views presented in a coherent format.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooh! Thanks for the suggestion!

  11. Shelly

    My friend and I were just talking about how she thought she lived in a bubble. Turns out I do too according to the quiz. (19!) I thought I’d score higher given my conservative upbringing and family but nope! I was already doing some of these things… well mostly just #5 but will make a concerted effort to expand my horizons. Thanks!

  12. Karren Kai

    This was definitely a good read. Thought provoking for sure. I was raised in a home with aparents with opposing…..everything. My father is a redneck, republican, protestant. My mother a flower child /hippie, catholic, democrat.
    What is interesting is there wasn’t any tension in the home . There was tensoin (still is) from extended family. However my folks were in a agree to disagree and love each other passionately anyway attitude.
    I remember my maternal grandfather was very aggressive in his beliefs , even beligeret alot of the time. In turn his children (12 children ) are the same way now
    . My paternal grandparents were more gracious tolerant group.and so there children and grandchildren.
    What I find interesting about that is they were the right wingers that are considered hateful. Republicans, Judeo Christian.
    I think because of this controversial background I see the compassionate part of each side.
    But can you guess which I chose, along with my siblings?
    Yup the more tolerant side, the right wing,.
    We love those who are different than us, even bringing them into our homes to love and care for.
    We have unofficially adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds.Grandchildren with different skin color than us. I have loved ones who have chosen lifestyles that are not what I would choose. But we love them anyway. Not despite their different because they are.
    I think we need to understand each other and listen to others ideas. Not react and live in ignorance and behave in beligerence..
    I still hold fast to the standards of the bible and try to live according to those principles.

    Great read.

    • Christian Ike

      This is really very instructive, especially the aspect – we need to understand and listen to each others ideas, not react, live in ignorance and live in beligerence. Thank you.

  13. Emily H. L.

    I rode into the quiz on my high horse and came out with a 29 and realizing I’m in a super thick bubble. I’ve traveled the world and have advanced degrees yet my bubble remains thick. Time to branch out!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Shocking, right? Good for you for being willing to expand your horizons!

    • Debbie

      Showing your vunerabilty will help to connect you with other people. Bubble only works for self protection. For a time… then its time to come out of it and risk…. I hope you will.. LOve and pecae and joy to you.

  14. Amanda Feltmann

    Very interesting topic & is just what I needed to read today. I took the quiz and got a 55. I feel in general my life hasn’t been overly in a bubble, but lately my life has felt that way. I live in a small town and tend to be a creature of habit. Shopping at the same Target (Waconia), going to the same coffee shop, talking to the same neighbors. I think there IS something to be said for sticking with your comforts in that way, too. I’m thankful for the reminder to expand my horizons, especially with the people I follow and interact with on social media and in real life to really help me grow!

  15. Anna Hartley

    A few months ago you recommended using social media to help achieve goals: ie if you want to start eating healthy, follow healthy eaters to keep this topic on your mind and in front of your eyeballs. On your advice I started following Bola from Clever Girl Finance and I love it and have started making real changes in my financial planning.
    I feel like this is a great extension of the idea, and generally, I just really like the way you are able to bring abstract ideas into the tangible space of our real lives. Keep it up!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you found it helpful, Anna!

  16. Liz Lawson

    I love this! This is one of the things I’ve come to find unschooling is about—you always have to challenge yourself and be open to new things, or else you won’t learn and might as well be stuffed into a box with some packing peanuts and sold in a mass-market setting.

    The idea makes a lot of people—especially my family—uncomfortable, but it makes me uncomfortable to imagine myself comfortable being too insecure to consider other things/get to know people who are so different from me. But then, that sounds a lot like character development—and I’m a writer who favors dynamic characters over static ones, and that might be it… But I think it’s easy to enjoy the bubble. It reminds me of a sermon I heard at church when I went, some years ago. The guest pastor shared a little about his life outside the Bible Belt and how he never realized there was a greater world outside it so different from, uh, this one. You don’t know what is out there if you don’t put yourself out there.

    Staying in your comfort zone keeps you in the bubble, and even Jimmy Livingston needed to escape it eventually.

    My score on the quiz was/is 48 points—I suppose I should’ve hit “yes” for buying a pickup, because I did read why it was asked, and I’ve had to use one just the same, having lived and worked on a farm and all. XD Other things, like fishing, I can’t do so much anymore due to allergies and my never-ending hunt for sunscreen that doesn’t contain soy, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and coconuts. AUGH.

  17. A

    This is so, so important and as ever you give some really practical tips for how to change daily behaviours in easy ways (aka no excuse for not doing it). I’ve recently started listening to The Receipts Podcast – 4 women of different ethnic and financial circumstances to me – Three Shots of Tequila – which is kind of a male version of The Receipts. They remind me of the different assumptions we have about or life that get built into us by our surroundings. I’m also enjoying the book recommendations from the Instagram feed @sophia_stories, which features mainly middle eastern and black writers taking on race, racism and being displaced by others against your choice.

    However, that’s all quite “in my head” stuff, so I’m going to try and take up yr point of shopping in another area, or hanging out in different restaurants. Funnily enough it’s the political exploration that scares me the most!

  18. Camila

    Recently I learnt just how much of a bubble I was in and I also became aware of my privilege that I was surrounded by progressive people, etc. But it also made me aware that I have secluded myself from people from diverging opinions (mostly of opinions I deem hateful). While I have no issues going about life interacting with people of all walks of life, I find it difficult to maintain friendships with people of ideas that I find hateful. I would love to have conversations and understand why they think that way, but sometimes I feel there is no logic and no point to even trying.
    I do love the idea to get out of my bubble though and I’ve been trying. If anything the last year made me realise just how much of a bubble I was living in. So I do follow people of different faiths and different walks of life as myself. As an academic I love the idea of understanding what people think and why, and I’m happy to do that in a ‘safe’ setting (there goes my bubble again..)

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yeah, I’m not sure there’s much benefit to having in depth conversations with racists or homophobes. BUT I think it’s worth understanding/knowing how common that mindset is. I think that’s part of the reason Trump got elected; so many people thought Hillary was a shoe-in, we thought there was no way people would vote for Trump so we weren’t as diligent about door-knocking as we could have been.

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