Monday, June 18, 2012

As With Collards

Unquiet meals make ill digestions.
The Comedy of Errors, V.1.81
Last night I had a transformative experience. Before last night, I believed that I was averse to collard greens. And that is a conspicuous understatement. This perception of mine dates back to childhood when I was first introduced to collards that had been boiled for two days straight in a vat of salt along with a ham hock and some other unidentified animal parts. These collard greens had been prepared by a particularly surly Mama who insisted that her daughter and I, her overnight guest, eat at least five heaping spoonfuls of said greens before we would be excused from the table and permitted to resume the activities that had hithertofore so happily absorbed our attention. The explanation justifying this mandate had something to do with the salutary nature of this vegetable and the woman’s assurance that: “Around here, children eat what I tell ’em to eat. And I’ll be god-damned if I’m in a mood to start making exceptions over a bowl of perfectly good greens.”

Over the years, I have made peace with greens of various kinds. Even come to relish consuming some. But collard greens? Ugh. Just saying the words was enough to unsettle my lower track. But yesterday my husband specifically requested that “collard greens” be part of the Father’s Day dinner menu. Instead of arguing the point, on a whim, I decided to try to conquer my long-standing fear. To do so, I employed a strategy that did not involve any ham hocks, but would otherwise take a page out of the Cajun-cooking playbook. After all, I figured, I could probably stomach a few bites of anything masked by sufficient firepower. 

Surprise, surprise, I didn’t just choke down a few bites. I discovered that I liked those collard greens. In fact, I can’t wait to cook up some more—with even more garlic this time (and a tad fewer tomatoes. . . .)

The point?

A person could hastily derive several morals from this little tale:

·         You should never try to make kids eat anything because you’ll just create life-long aversions that may never be overcome except by happy accidents of garlic.
·         Kids don’t like greens, so you should at least wait until their taste buds mature before subjecting them to a whole bowlful.
·         Everyone can grow to love greens, given the right recipe.
·         Overcoming any and all aversions is possible.

But each of these generalizations is readily rebuttable:

·         With some kids, if you do not encourage them to try things, they will never eat anything except Mac-n-Cheese, cheese pizza, and Happy Meals.
·         My brother loved greens—everything and anything green—the moment he sprang from the same womb that had borne me.
·         The “there is a recipe for everyone” argument sounds like the dreadfully insensitive one I made in my youth to my first vegetarian friend: “I bet you don’t like steak because the ones you tried were always overcooked. Meat should be a little bloody, you know.”
·         And no way can you convince my husband that there is any mechanism that could help him overcome his aversion to cockroaches, great and small.

Some things are just difficult for a person—either because of an early trauma, because of the reality that tastes vary, because of some underlying belief or principle, or because of some wholly irrational fear. For some, Shakespeare is like that: impossibly difficult. At least that is what my husband has been insisting lately. “Gretch, people just find the stuff impenetrable.”

I have already argued that difficult things, like Shakespeare, can and should be embraced—especially by lawyers. Besides, the idea that, just because something is “difficult” means that people will forever shun it, is a gross oversimplification analogous to my collard-green precepts. My husband, for instance, has been a big fan of all kinds of objectively difficult things: phenomenology, quantum mechanics, French grammar, Leonard Cohen’s singing. People can and do like all kinds of “difficult” things. The interesting question is: why do some difficult things simply appeal to some people right off the bat whereas others need some kind of awakening to discover their value?

I do not know. When I’ve been asked to explain how I came to love Shakespeare, I have not been able to identify a collard-greens moment. Instead, I just know that, by high school, I already self-identified as a “Shakespeare fan”—and not just because I fancied myself to be an actress. (Besides, plenty of actors have the same Shakespeare-phobia that other folks do; in other words, those who would be actors is a much larger set than those who automatically love Shakespeare.) But because I love Shakespeare so much, I want to figure out how to create collard-greens moments for others. I want to do this not only because I love the guy, but because that is what teachers do.

And that is what lawyers do.

Lawyers are forever trying to find inventive ways to get people to eat their collards and appreciate them, too—which means that blatantly coercive tactics generally do not get the job done. Thinking like a lawyer, suggests that I should pursue my Shakespeare-is-akin-to-collards teaching while keeping the following in mind:

·         If someone already likes collards, then convincing them that collards are a good thing is no big accomplishment.
·         Because some people think they hate collards, I need to be sensitive to that fact but should not assume that the hatred is insurmountable.
·         As with any “difficult” thing, some people may never come to appreciate collards. But those people should not dictate taking collards off the menu.
·         Maybe the world can go on turning without collards, but the possibility of expanding just one palate may be worth a certain amount of experimentation.

These generalizations are better than the collard-greens precepts listed above because these arguments are not so easily rebutted. That’s what lawyers attempting to serve collards (or Shakespeare) need to recognize: arguments that truly resonate are ones that withstand at least a wee bit of thinking because “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet, II.2.250-1).

1 comment:

  1. My mother used to send me to our neighborhood park to pick dandelions so she could boil them to submission and feed them to me, for my health. And, sadly, there were no Cliff's notes for dandelions spiced with traces of every dog for which they had been an appealing place to find relief.

    In spite of all this, I have always found dandelion flowers and seed heads strangely beautiful. Life is complex. So, I must admit, is Skakespeare.