Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Goals not shoulds

Some years back I was trying to sort out my alcoholic family legacy, and doing some bibliotherapy around codependency. Turned out I am not very co-dependent. But I recall one very important learning from Codependent No More. It was "Goals, not shoulds." Get away from blaming and shaming yourself, and work on positive goals, not the negative apodictic. ("Thou shalt not...")

I think this is why I was taken aback when a friend told me she was never going to read The Omnivore's Dilemma because everyone who does becomes a fanatic, and if she wants a banana she's going to have a banana.

Now there were several things going on here, as it turns out. One was a criticism of me, I think, though a pretty gentle one. Another was that kind of stubbornness we can all identify with - your standards will not rule my life, thank you very much. It is not nice to feel judged. The third, though, was pretty troubling to me, a tale of guests asking their host where the food came from - is this fresh, seasonal, local, sustainably harvested, etc. This last was pretty appalling. I guess I have just assumed that while reading Pollan's book might well change someone's perspective, it would be in terms of choices they made themselves, or organizing so that others could have better choices, but not in guilting others.

There is a world of difference between striking up a conversation about food sources and practices in a public place - at the market, for example - and criticizing someone who has invited you into their home, or is treating you to a meal out. But there is no end to rudeness, apparently, especially among those who are affluent enough to exercise the most choices.

And there does seem to be a blurring of lines between the goals we set for ourselves and our attitude toward others. The 'not shoulds' part means as well that we must not shame or blame or others.

How about the line we heard on Sunday from the letter to the Colossians:
"Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink"

And don't try doing it to them, either.

Purity codes had no place then, and have none now. Though I must say I have noted that we do have informal dietary codes in our popular culture, which shape shift as fats go out of style, and then carbs, and who knows what next. I have actually preached on the text "It's not what goes into his mouth that defiles a man."

We need to cut one another some slack on all this. We need to help one another find goals that build up, not rules that tear down. We need to be ready to explain our own disciplines, but not impose them on others. We need to be more flexible as guests. And frankly just polite. (There are few people I invite to dinner any more because of all the rules people set for themselves. Some tell me they will bring their own food - but then why am I, a good cook, bothering? Let them clean their house. Or maybe we could go on a brown bag byo picnic. )

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