Zach Miller – Considering the amount of thought I put into critiquing the Davidson Bubble, you’d think I would do more to pop it. My days here tend to fill up quickly, and the frantic pace leaves little time for the conversations I value most. Even when I stumble into free time for discussions, my opinion operates mainly as a vehicle to pack in as many complaints as possible. When I’m tired, I become much more critical of the organizations that tug for my time. When I’m at odds with a friend, I become much more critical of Davidson’s social scene. These “conversations” are really all about me. I neither expect nor welcome any kind of rebuttal. Usually there is none. I’m in my bubble.
There is nothing inherently wrong with one-way venting, but systematically disguisting it as legitimate, two-way conversation only leaves me less open to differing opinions in any discussion. When someone says something I disagree with, I make quick eye contact with a friend, slip a wink, and chuckle to myself. Later, in the sanctity of Richardson Hall, I will obliterate their argument with my like-minded peers. In a world where polarization, gridlock, neo-anything, and a lack of empathy are becoming the norm, I can’t afford to watch myself slip further into a mindset that ignores opinions I do not already have a prideful stake in, and, more insidiously, writes of the bearer of that opinion as a bumbling idiot. If I do, I will be undeserving of any social or political capital, and I will fail to meet the moral expectations I have set for myself.
At Davidson, it’s surprisingly easy to surround myself with people who, on the surface, believe a lot of the same things I do. I could use classwork and a small group of friends to insulate myself, and I would still be able to have an impact on campus. When I go home, though, it’s a different story. In my small town there are many more people who see the world differently than I do, and their life has shaped their views just as my experiences have influenced mine. To close myself o to differing opinions would mean accepting the idea that progress will never be made on issues I care about. Similarly, writing people o would make more enemies than friends, and I would be left with no base of support for any social action I wish to take. If I’m committed to doing more than complaining, I must be on good terms with as many people as possible. Coalition building will simultaneously refine my opinions and grant others the opportunity to be heard, and, as one in a community of students who pride themselves on being socially active and having a real impact, I can’t think of a more productive scenario.
Orchestrating compromise, however, is not an attractive enough reason for me to make an extreme e ort to be more open. Eventually the grind will wear me down, and, in a selfish fit of pride and exhaustion, I will throw my prospects of social and political capital out the window to welcome the comfort that comes when I crawl back in my bubble. I need a better reason.
I have already received a relatively elite education. We all have. And I believe the obligation to initiate empathy is placed on me, and us, because of it. If we don’t, who will? We have studied history, politics, economics, psychology, biology, ecology, physics. The list of the things we know would take more time to compile than I can estimate. Why should we not genuinely seek to understand what people believe and why they believe it? We have been taught ideas and theories, but when we do not allow real people to teach us how they have reached their opinions, we close ourselves to a deeper understanding of the world we actually live in. Similarly, if I do not initiate empathy, I cannot expect anyone to understand why I believe the things I do. It is easy for me to initiate empathy when it is returned, but I must persist even when met with hostility. I can choose to take my bubble and go home, but I must first relinquish my right to expect others to hear me. Again, if we who have the time and the knowledge to consider such questions do not initiate empathy, we have significantly decreased the chance that anyone will. Society may not explicitly burden us with this obligation, but if we want to hand our children a world less divided than ours we should put the burden on ourselves.
Before closing, I must add that there are times I should write an opinion off, but these instances occur much less frequently than I would like to admit. From my bubble, I often choose to hear only the loudest, most obnoxious opinions, and I use them to justify tuning out entire groups. is is not acceptable. I am failing to initiate empathy because of one or two extreme opinions. There are times I should give no empathy, but if I am truly trying to reconcile divisions I believe these instances will be rare exceptions to the rule.
This is a challenge to myself. I am convinced that empathy can heal divisions, but empathy is not an easy thing to muster. I hope that by committing to my beliefs in writing I will be forced to follow through. If I do, my bubble will begin to pop.
Zach Miller, ’20, is an undeclared student from Morehead City, North Carolina. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.