Gimbling in the Wabe – The View from Here

by Sharon Browning

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Recently, there was a bit of hullabaloo and a great deal of chortling when rapper B.o.B. “dueled” over Twitter with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the Earth being flat.  I had heard about it only tangentially until Tyson did a bit on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, as the first responder in a “science emergency defense program” scenario. (Go ahead, click on the link – it’s hilarious!)

But beyond the comedy, it brought into focus for me how we respond to our own beliefs.

Yes, there are beliefs that stand up to scrutiny, and those that we must internalize on our own.  But there are also beliefs that need to be examined through a larger perspective for them to be considered valid.

Some erroneous beliefs seem to be pretty universal, that transcend generations.  I have to laugh every time I see a “news” article about the legitimacy of kids responding to efforts forcing them into healthier eating habits.  Specifically, on whether government mandates on healthier school lunches are effective.  “Are Healthier School Lunches Doomed?The Atlantic trumpets.  LiveScience headlines, “Are Healthy School Lunch Programs a Waste?”  Even The Washington Post ran an article stating “Why the Healthy School Lunch Program is in Trouble.”   Each one of these articles (along with many others) to some degree posit that mandates should be scrutinized since kids throw away more food when the tray is full of fruits and vegetables, rather than pizza and tater tots.

Well, duh.  Kids are kids. I imagine the same would hold true to a certain degree if adults were the targets of these types of metrics.  But these suppositions miss the point.  The point isn’t efficiency in less waste.  The point is that kids need to be fed healthy food, regardless of whether or not they want it over more fun, less complex choices.  I mean, c’mon.  How many of us as children, sitting at our own dinner tables, were enthusiastic about having to eat all our green beans before getting dessert?  How many of us filled up on mashed potatoes before tackling the dreaded broccoli languishing on our plates?  But did our moms stop putting those green beans and that broccoli on our plates, or stop expecting us to eat them?  And how many of us as we got older discovered that hey! broccoli is actually pretty good?  If we as kids got to dictate what we were served at every meal, our palates would become mighty narrow, I’m pretty sure.  I’d like to see a study done on that.

Of course, lots of kids are going to turn their noses up at salads and baked chicken strips, sans breading, if given the chance.  Their choices are based on taste, not health.  It’s the responsibility of those of us in a position of authority to still give them healthy choices regardless of how they feel about them, and if it comes down to an either/or, then what’s good for them should always trump what’s considered fun.  Especially for kids who may depend on school lunches as the main meal of their day, we have a responsibility as a caring society to give them what’s good for their bodies rather than simply what will fill up their stomachs.  Given time, schools will find a way to make healthier foods more tasteful, and more appealing to kids.  If students’ only options are eating healthy or going hungry, I bet most kids will reach for the fruit cup, even if they bemoan that it’s not a pudding cup.

Listen, it’s not just school lunches.  Every generation feels that they are misunderstood by the generation that has come before them.  Every older generation feels that what they’ve come through has been devalued by those who come after.  Every child feels that their parents just don’t “get” them, when every parent still remembers being that child who felt their own parents were prehistoric and unfairly rigid.  It wasn’t until they became parents themselves that their came to the shocking – and heartbreaking – realization that honestly, their mothers and fathers were generally right.  And that, just like when they were children, their own children will not accept their validity until they themselves have children.

On a totally different tact, I was recently told in a rather passive/aggressive manner that my reviews were too long, too wordy – and this from someone of authority, someone I admired.  It stung.  I mean, it really throw me for a loop, and my first response was to come out swinging, to defend myself.  To insist (to myself, in my internal discussion with myself) that I was giving information that was valuable, that I was piquing readers’ interest rather than putting them off with too much exposition, that I wasn’t too wordy, but instead was “going deeper” into the texts.

And then I went back and read some of my reviews, fully expecting my bruised ego to be completely exonerated.  But lo and behold, even without having the most objective of eyes, I could see the validity of the oblique criticism.  Enthusiasm for the works aside, I had been keeping an eye more on word count, believing that to be a benchmark for quality without taking into account what someone wondering about a book would really be looking for:  a taste, not a five course meal.

Oh, I still stand behind my reviews, each and every one of them.  They are written honestly; I don’t apologize for them at all.  But looking outside my own internal dialog, I can see where what I have to offer – to readers and to authors – should be honed a bit.  Made healthier, rather than filling.

Because it all comes down to perspective.  Without being able to see that “small sections of large, curved surfaces will always look flat to little creatures that crawl upon it”, or to keep in mind that most kids will always choose pizza over salad, or remember that we all thought our parents were out of touch until we became parents, then what we think will always be cramped and biased.  This is not the antithesis of standing up for our convictions; this is ensuring that our convictions are strong enough for us to stand upon.

And sometimes, even when there are more words dancing in our heads, we need to just learn to shut up.  When the point’s been made, there’s no need to keep belaboring it.

Oh, and the Earth isn’t flat.  I’m pretty sure of that.  And you know what else?  Broccoli really is pretty darn good.

~ Sharon Browning

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