Living In A Bubble—Who Me?

Apparently we live in a world of alternative truths. We float around in our individualized bubbles, barely bumping into one another. We read and watch things that reinforce our own strongly-held beliefs. We spend time gathering various facts to reinforce our corner on the truth. While it’s almost impossible to admit, each of us lives in a bubble.

But here’s the deal: I’ve come to believe we really live in fear that our bubbles just might burst. That’s why we get so worked up when someone challenges our cherished notions. Not me! we shout. Other people may have bubbles, but not me. My truth is surely the truth, isn’t it?

The most alarming thing, though, is not that we disagree. That’s to be expected. That has always been the case in democratic societies. The worst part is whether we really care anymore what is true and what is not? And then there is this hard part: If we do care, how do we search for, locate, and believe in the truth?

I am reminded of the powerful insight of Hannah Arendt, that mid-twentieth century intellectual, who once remarked: “We have ceased to live in a common world where the words we have in common possess an unquestionable meaningfulness.” “Short of being condemned to live verbally in an altogether meaningless world,” she adds, “we grant each other the right to retreat into our own worlds of meaning, and demand only that each of us remain consistent within [our] own private terminology.” This is our world of bubbles, isn’t it? This is not good. This is not a good place, perhaps an impossible place, from which to build a better world.

When we are no longer anchored by some agreed-upon notion of what is true, we lose a common language. We talk across one another. When there was a center to our civilization—a philosophical, theological, cultural anchor—we still would argue and debate about what it all means, but when there is no center left, the argument and discussion become shrill, sometimes even filled with rage, meaningless.

So what are we to do? I don’t know, frankly, but I keep coming back to that possibility that we must dig into the hollow at the center of culture and begin to fill it with something concrete. For me I want to put basic Christian teaching back into that hollow, but I recognize more and more, given our pervasively secular culture, to fill the core with Christian truth is probably a fantasy. That’s an indictment not on Christian truth but on a culture that no longer believes there is common truth.

I’ve begun to think we start with small actions. This is what Christians have always taught. What if we start with gestures of kindness, honesty, affirmation, contentment, humility, peacefulness, trustworthiness? What if we focus on our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, our organizations? We must put words to these actions later, even theological words, but can’t we just do something, something concrete, something that begins to fill the vacuum that lies at the center of our society?

I’ve got one other thing to propose, at least for Christians. I find myself going back to the ancient practices of anchoring my day with daily devotion to a loving God, with prayer, contemplation, with deeper reading of holy Scriptures, with reading among those many writers who know how to live deeply. Maybe this is the way we start filling the hole in our lives. This surely will put us on the path of discovering something true and good and beautiful, won’t it? And besides, we just may recover the poise that allows us actually to talk with one another. Maybe then we can resist the panic that our bubble will burst.

We don’t want to be floating bubbles, do we? With no place to land, we are driven into despair, into a kind of nihilistic resignation that things can’t get better, into anger, hysteria, and painful division. We don’t want to go there, do we? Maybe we should begin with those small actions that make the lives of those around us better. Maybe we should anchor our days on ancient practices that lead us toward what is true. I am convinced this will make our lives better too.