My more disgruntled high school friends and I would often talk about what we thought was the pitiful shortsightedness and intellectual isolation of our hometown. To our young minds, our mostly white, mostly rich, mostly conservative community was the pinnacle of a suburbubble: a boring, plebian, un-enlightened, narrow-minded outpost of a non-city that was much too small and much too unsophisticated for we aspiring young urbanites. (It is only a testament to our own shortsightedness that this hometown was a part of a metro area of nearly 2 million people.) So imagine my surprise when I get a bit of experience with places that by this maxim should be much more wise, enlightened, ethnic, and evolved, and find out these places area just as ordinary and disappointingly real as the suburbubble I hoped to escape from. My experience with these urbubbles (urban places that were still boring and narrow-minded, though in different ways) made me question my assumption that any kind of mindedness is dictated by place and collective characteristics. I wasn’t living in a limited sphere of experience and scope because of where I lived, or where I went to school, at least not entirely. It was a light bulb moment for me: I wasn’t living in a suburbubble, I was living in an ego-bubble. My bubble was shaped by my own limitations, opinions, personality traits, and perspective in life much more than it was shaped by any physical address I could ever have. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite a light bulb moment. Maybe a lucky striking of the flint, so obvious and caveman-like does this epiphany seem now.)
In another concept that escaped my youthful understanding, real bubbles are always exact spheres because the air inside them exerts force equally in all directions. My personal bubble, however, is not nearly so perfect. I generally only exert force in the directions that I care about. I spend much more time trying to understand and change, for example, my relationship situation than I do trying to understand and change, for example, the situation in Darfur. This lopsided nature of my sphere of care is not at all a good thing: I should try constantly to exert force equally in all directions, to change to size and scope of my bubble, to overcome my baser compulsions. In my pursuit to be a well-rounded person, I must learn that people I don’t physically know can be really real, that sorrow I don’t personally feel can be really sad, and that I can never blame the convoluted shape of my own tiny soap-sphere on any limitations but my own.
It is not in our daily conscience that what matters to us could so easily be so very different. While it is true that intimacy leads to empathy, it is also true that where our intimacy leads our empathy could be a very misguided place. With the advent of the common complaint “FML,” we have only reinforced such unworthy empathy. As much as I hated to hear my mother tell me to get some when I was young and disproportionately tortured, perspective is important. Just because someone close to me dies does not make that death sadder than the death of someone I didn’t even know existed. A tragedy is not made more or less by how it affects me an individual. For example, I recently spilled on my computer and had to buy a new one. Five million people were recently (in the last ten years) killed in the Congo. There is no question as to which event is more objectively sad. There is also no question, awful as this fact may be, which event affected me more personally. We shouldn’t feel every tragedy so deeply that it cripples us, but we should feel them. I must try, as an evolved, intelligent, and empathic human being, to exert more force in the direction of events that are objectively and not just personally sad.
In relation to all the objectively sad things in the world, nothing in my exceptionally blessed life would be worthy of sympathy (and really? It’s not). I have absolutely no reason to say FML, even though sometimes I may feel like I do. And in terms of feeling, in regards to anything as uncontrollable and irrational as human emotion, whatever one feels has value. If a tragedy is more relative to you, of course you will feel more sad about it than you would about one that is not. But rationally, thoughtfully, one must strive to consider events without the limitations of one’s bubble, physical or otherwise. Though our feeling may not be, our action, our force, and our decision (who to support, who to help, who to attack) must be dictated by objective consideration more than personal intimacy and feeling. I don’t need to pop my bubble, but I do need to try to push its rainbow-changing surface into a more spherical shape and its position into a place of greater perspective.