You don't know people

We live in bubbles, Sometimes we create them ourselves. Sometimes they are dictated by geography, profession, and other mitigating factors.

Sometimes you’re not quite sure how your bubble even formed. For example, I don’t have any friends (or spouses of friends) who smoke, yet 14 percent of Americans smoke. This means that I have unknowingly excluded myself from 14 percent of America.

Granted I can’t stand cigarette smoke, so I’m content to occupy this bubble, but it’s not as if I purposely jettisoned anyone out of my life for smoking. Perhaps because of my profession and my geography, I have somehow managed to exclude smokers from my bubble.

But I think it’s important to remember that we live in these bubbles, and in doing so, we oftentimes fail to understand people occupying different bubbles.

When I was a student at Trinity College and St. Joseph’s University, for example, I was attending the most expensive and sixth most expensive schools in Connecticut at the time.

But I was also on a full academic scholarship, so I wasn’t paying any tuition. While most of the students around me come from affluent families, I did not.

St. Joseph’s University was also an all-women’s school at the time, and I was (and continue to be) a man, so my presence at St. Joseph’s was also unusual.

Also, prior to attending these schools, I had been homeless and awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit.

So although I didn’t really belong in any of these bubbles, I found myself existing within them nonetheless. One was almost exclusively white and wealthy, and the other was almost exclusively white and female.

But at the same time, I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant in Hartford. This created quite a contrast for me.

While working at McDonald’s, I was almost always the only white person working in the restaurant at any given time. Most of my employees were immigrants - primarily Mexican, Chinese, Peruvian, and Dominican. Many were poor and struggling to make ends meet. Most did not own a car, so I would drive throughout the neighborhood at 4:30 AM, picking up my morning crew and bringing them to and from work. I helped many of them with tasks like filing their taxes, reviewing school forms, making doctor’s appointments, and helping them find second and third jobs.

It was a period of my life when on any given day, I could be sitting alongside wealthy, white English majors in the morning, affluent young women in the afternoon, and then I might spend my evening flipping burgers with non-English speaking immigrant mothers from South America and the Caribbean.

It reminded me - so very clearly - that people living in relative proximity to each other can exist within vastly different bubbles. It also reminded me that when it comes to bubbles, the people occupying the most privileged bubbles are most likely to not understand the bubbles that other people occupy or not realize that they even exist.

But they do.

For example, here are a few statistics that might surprise you depending on the bubbles in which you live:

  • 11% of American adults do not use the internet.

  • 65% of high school graduates attend college following graduation and only a third of Americans hold a four year college degree.

  • Less than half of all American children attend preschool.

  • 37% of adult Americans don’t drink alcohol.

  • 27% of Americans work between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM at least once a week.

  • 3% of Americans are adopted.

  • 36% of Americans don’t drink coffee.

Some of these statistics probably surprised you. Some surprised me. But they served as excellent reminder that as commonplace as certain things may seem to me, they are likely to be far less common than I think.

And maybe you think.