For attention-span challenged readers: today's post is a relatively long 900 words, and it goes beyond food into psychology, conversation scripts and victimhood. Just a friendly warning.
There are plenty of people out there who have a real knack for whining and complaining--about food prices, about how much time it takes to cook, about big food and so on.
Of course, long time readers know exactly how Casual Kitchen feels about whining and complaining: It isn't allowed. Instead, I ask my readers to seek out solutions and take action.
However, there's a special, nearly irresistible "complaint script" that I'm seeing crop up lately in other food blogs and in interactions among commenters here and elsewhere. I want CK readers to be able to recognize this complaint script--and more importantly, not get sucked into it.
This script was first identified by the psychiatrist Eric Berne in his popular and controversial book Games People Play. Here's a standard example, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Why Don't You/Yes But:
White: I wish I could lose some weight.
Black: Why don't you join a gym?
W: Yes, but I can't afford the payments for a gym.
B: Why don't you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?
W: Yes, but I don't dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.
B: Why don't you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?
W: Yes, but after my knee surgery, it hurts too much to walk that many flights of stairs.
B: Why don't you change your diet?
W: Yes, but my stomach is sensitive and I can tolerate only certain foods.
And so on. This conversation script goes on and on until Black gives up in frustration and White triumphs, having proven that his problem cannot be solved.
Why am I talking about this? What role could this bizarre conversation script have in a cooking blog?
Because this script, in all of its negative, soul-sucking glory, shows up surprisingly often in some of the conversations we have right here at Casual Kitchen. Let's look at another imaginary example, one that I suspect might sound rather familiar to long-time Casual Kitchen readers:
White: [in a whining and defeatist voice] Healthy food is too expensive.
Black: You could try eating more lentils, or potatoes. They're extremely healthy foods and practically free.
W: Yes, but nobody wants to eat lentils. Nobody wants to live like that.
B: Well, what about potatoes? They are really healthy!
W: Yes, but potatoes are boring.
B: Well, there are lots of different recipes containing potatoes. Look--here's a recipe for scalloped potatoes!
W: Forget it, there's no way I'm going to turn on the oven in my apartment in the summer.
B: Well, wait--this recipe is for scalloped potatoes on a stovetop... it only takes like 20 minutes!
W: [Pauses, thinks] Yes, but do you really think I'm going to slice all those potatoes? I'll go crazy!
Sigh... and so on.
In this case, White subverts a truth (that healthy and inexpensive foods might actually exist) by offering up "yes, but" statements on irrelevant aspects of the argument (potatoes are boring). This allows White to reject Black's entire suite of ideas, regardless of how useful, logical or compelling they are. This is ankle-biting in its worst form.
You could perhaps argue that the conversation above is an unrealistic caricature of a real conversation, but the truth is, it's not. You'd be shocked (then again, maybe you wouldn't) at how often people will go around and around and around, on progressively thinner and thinner rhetorical ice, in order to repeatedly shoot down even the most creative ideas and thoughts.
My point in sharing the conversation snippet above is simply to show how White's closed mindset, negative tone and endless yes-butting sucks the life out of both participants.... and solves nothing.
Some psychology-speak for a brief moment: Obviously, the yes, but conversation above isn't really about the cost of healthy food. That's a trap, a misdirection play. Black thinks the conversation is about healthy food, but it isn't. The conversation is really about the validation of White's feelings and ego.
Sadly, the worst irony of the standard yes-but conversation is how White remains blithely unaware that he's fiercely defending his ego at the cost of rejecting a whole range of potentially useful ideas and solutions, most of which would likely make him happier, healthier and more personally effective. You'd think at some point White would recognize that he's firing off an unending supply of excuses and rationalizations and step out of this ridiculous feedback loop. Unfortunately, his ego is too invested in being a victim of an insoluble problem.
Does this sound at all familiar? How many people would rather sit around and claim, for example, that the food industry is too powerful for the average consumer to do anything about it? That hyperpalatable foods are too irresistible? That healthy food is too hard to find at a reasonable price? That food companies are evil, or worse, are specifically plotting to make us all fat? How many us can see ourselves in the two sample conversation scripts above, wanting to lose weight or wanting to eat healthier, yet we fail to take action--and worst of all, fight off every idea or suggestion that comes our way?
Why am I writing about this? For one reason: even though the readers of Casual Kitchen are full of exceptional suggestions for even the most distraught and downtrodden readers, the bottom line is, no matter how creative, helpful and insightful your ideas are, you are simply doomed if you get caught up in this script.
Defeatism comes in many forms. Don't let yourself get sucked into this vortex.
Readers, please share your thoughts!
Update 8/11/10: There's a lot more to say about the so-called yes-but script, and I've since written two follow-up posts to this article. They address a special type of the yes-but script, one I believe that prevents more people from embracing healthy and affordable food solutions than any other single cause:
1) The Worst Yes-But of All
2) Yes-Butting and You: Answers and Final Thoughts
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It
Scarred For Life By a Food Industry Job
The Pros and Cons of Restaurant Calorie Labeling Laws
Guess What? We Spend Less Than Ever on Food
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