The phrase “you are what you eat” is generally used to describe the effects of diet on our physical health. (Turn yourself orange with carrots! Add some inches with fudge!)
But there’s a much deeper psychological application of this phrase to our world view, and how it is affected by life experiences.
For example: My grandmother was a World Class Pack Rat.
Every closet, cellar shelf and attic corner was packed tightly with things “saved against a rainy day”. She kept everything from wrapping paper off of the Christmas gifts to scraps of old clothes, and she canned and stored like a squirrel coming up on the Ice Age… or more accurately, like a woman who’d come of age during the Great Depression.
Psychologically, she was what she’d eaten (or rather, what she hadn’t).
This isn’t a profound concept, but it’s completely overlooked in the immediacy of heated discussion on certain subjects… like religion. Or race relations. From Ben Smith @ The Politico:
Sure does feel like we’re plunging into the abyss tonight.
Fox just posted a big Jeremiah Wright story, and the video is pretty gripping, and deeply racially confrontational. He begins by describing the Romans, who crucified Jesus, as Italians, and thus white, and more or less goes from there.
“Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people,” Wright says.
“Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger,” he says at the climax.
The Fox story contains rather a lot more… and yes, some folks are going to be offended by Wright’s world view… but it’s pretty hard to deny the truth of the words themselves.
Obviously it’s highly unlikely that Hillary Clinton has been called “nigger” — just as its pretty hard to picture a male Rodham in her family being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). On the other hand, I don’t get a visual of “bitch” being flung at Barack Obama, either — but it’s been used freely on Hillary for as long as I can remember.
These are double-edged swords, and denying that our society has been manifesting its deeply misogynistic and racist tendencies during these campaigns is a hard position to defend.
The question of why we seem to be stuck here, unfortunately, is rooted in how we came to be here… and the problem is that it’s hard to form an appreciation for sauerkraut if you didn’t grow up eating it.
Along those lines — it’s true that the Romans were initially from Italy, and thus European, while Jesus and his contemporaries were ethnically Semitic.
The pictures in my Children’s Bible (and probably yours) featuring a golden-haired baby/boy/young man Jesus were misleading — and it’s worth pointing out that every single depiction of an angel in the Bible of my childhood also showed a blonde.
Yet these yellow-haired, blue-eyed saints were part of the diet upon which we grew to adulthood in White, Christian America. Kind of like bleached-flour Wonderbread, ya know? Filled us up, but not a lot of nutritional value.
The question we face as a nation is not whether or not we’re past The Past. Obviously we aren’t. Nor is there a “walk a mile in his/her shoes” solution; our feet simply cannot fit. No matter how hard Dear Husband might try, he isn’t going to relate to what my years as a single mother were like… any more than a white person can internalize the formative experiences of a black person’s inner-city upbringing.
What we can do is recognize the validity of positions from which bias and/or prejudice come — including our own. Rather than attack one another, we need to admit that there are bona fide, quantifiable reasons for all these world views… and we’re going to have to start by examining our own socio-psychological intake.
Ethnically, economically, geographically, religiously, sexually — All of us have been eating metaphorical carrots all our lives. In and of itself, this is not always “bad”, and even when it is, it’s often unavoidable… but it’s absolutely crucial that we recognize the orange filters we all wear as a result.
We can’t very well un-eat our formative experiences or generational influences, but we can recognize that none of us were starved — and that we were fed some influential and often unhealthy foods.
We are what we eat… and so is everybody else. Recognizing the source of our own views is the first step on the road to empathy.