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May 22, 2014 |

Chicken and Fries

BY Jen Hatmaker

I love to cook. I feed my people crazy food. In my pantry at this exact moment, I have fish sauce, ghee, Garam Masala, and berbere (my ET people know what this is). I make spicy food, sour food, I pickle radishes, I douse our stuff with curry. I feed my family bold, flavorful, ethnic food that sets their mouths on fire. They have been exposed to every sort of recipe. They have assimilated a super wide range of flavors and textures because I want them to love good food.

And every single time we go out to eat, Remy orders chicken and French fries.

Every.

Single.

Time.

This child eats peppery food with the heat of a thousand suns at home. She eats onions, peppers, garlic, curry, broccoli, fennel, quinoa, roasted red peppers, salmon. She gobbles it up like a skinny little carnivore. At a restaurant? Chicken and fries. They were some of the first American foods she was able to stomach, and her psyche has snagged on them. She can pull no other option out of her culinary satchel when forced to make her own decision.

She just goes back to the same predictable flavor.

I get this on a very human level. Sometimes I just want more of the same. I want the same thinkers, the same cacophony, the same groupthink. I assemble and invite a niche brand of religion, worldview, moral outrage, and theology into my ears. I like what I like and I like other people to like the same things.

I watch this with regularity in the weird online world where niche tribes have formed, creating something of a group identity. An issue comes up, the tribe gathers and formulates, then the responses start flying with predictable homogeny. The group machine feeds the outrage or dissidence or full throttle approval or cynicism, and people go public with cemented opinions formed back in the echo chamber without any tempering from different sources.

It’s tricky, because in so many ways, our niche tribes are life-giving and meaningful, as they should be. They offer likeminded community and a place to belong. These are wonderful outcomes in a noisy, lonely world.

But when we invite no other flavors into the mix, the chicken and fries has a downside. When the same views are bandied around the group endlessly, it causes ideas to seize when they should remain fluid. It inadvertently (or advertently) silences opposing or even just differing perspectives, assuring each other that we are right and they are wrong; the echo chamber has spoken. Ironically, opposing tribes operate the exact same way and come to the exact same conclusions; they simply swap the winner and loser blanks.

I know this is my tendency. I recognize my instinct to reach for a familiar flavor to affirm my own ideals. So I have some best practices to save me from myself and maybe they will be helpful for you. Let’s break it down into two categories:

During Conflict

An issue hit the news, a relationship hit the skids, that group or person said or did something offensive, our feelings were hurt. These are the moments we most want our chicken and fries. If there is to be a right and wrong conclusion, we want our people to assure us that we are right. We might even want to bolster some group outrage, because the only thing better than being right is being mad about it, and the only thing better than being mad about it is being mad with a bunch of people. Of course, the group outrage is built on carefully selected messaging from the Wounded One, but this is not the moment to bother with trivia; there is anger to fuel.

  1. Wait one day before you do or say anything at all. I’ve mentioned this personal policy before, and it cannot be overstated. In probably 8 out of 10 cases, the shock or anger or confusion recedes by the next day, and I am able to reassess the situation with clearer eyes. I see nuance I blew past the day before. I can operate out of the thinking part of my brain instead of the fight-or-flight part. It almost never feels as bad as I thought. Assembling the battalion and staging a war in those first 24 hours is the worst decision ever. Regret is virtually inevitable.
  2. If possible, go directly to the source before activating the troops. So often, misunderstanding or misinformation is the culprit. A simple phone call could clear it up or at least take the sting out. Especially for people we love or trust or respect; we should absolutely extend the benefit of the doubt and give them the courtesy of an honest, first-touch conversation. But even if the offense is severe, spiritual maturity requires direct communication; this is how adults behave.
  3. Reach for a different flavor. Discuss this with someone outside of your group. Find someone trustworthy who operates in a totally diverse space. Different perspectives are famously difficult to perceive on our own. Ask questions, try to get to the heart of it all. Prioritize understanding over defending. 
  4. Talk to someone who is in a similar place as the other person or group; pull from that tribe. When the World Vision fallout spiked, my first phone call was to Chris Marlow because he also leads a Christian international nonprofit using a sponsorship model. I said, “Unpack this for me from a leadership standpoint. What are all the factors I don’t understand?” Chris leant me some perspective that I absolutely 100% would not have grasped on my own.
  5. Talk to someone who is older and wiser than you. Every year I get older, I become less of an ass. I will be a wonderful counselor in twenty years, for the love. We need mentors who know the value of compromise, humility, and compassion. The fervor of youth is a double-edged sword; it can be a mighty tool for the kingdom, but it can also wound and slice and destroy. Wisdom seeks out wisdom, not just affirmation. Older believers? Please mentor us. We need you.

Outside of Conflict

These practices will provide the scaffolding for all the measures listed above. If we consistently move toward a wider circle, it will feel more natural to deviate from our chicken and fries in conflict.

  1. In general, nurture some friendships that are way outside of your normal parameters. Someone from across the pond, across party lines, across town, across ethnicities, across ideologies, across age groups. This requires effort and time, but it will make you a more gentle, more informed human. I love my niche tribe, but there is more to humanity than us. I have a deep and varied friend roster, and I cannot even measure how much they’ve changed me. The diversity of ideas, experiences, and perspectives they have brought into my worldview has absolutely altered my trajectory. If all your friends are basically the same, you don’t even know what you don’t know. Southern Baptist pastor? Go make friends with a gay atheist. Then shut your mouth and do a lot of listening. Now we’re getting somewhere.
  2. Connect your different friends with each other. I have several “groups,” and it is easy to formulate a personality for each one and keep them separate, but it is more fun to throw them all in a bowl and stir. My mix and match policy has spun off whole new friendships. This creates stronger communities that become more likely to expand, include, risk, invite. 
  3. Work on humility. I don’t know how to help us all with this, but all this is for crap if we don’t figure out how to be humble friends, humble listeners, humble learners. Arrogance is the culprit to so much destruction. We are not always right. And even when we are, we don’t need to act a fool. The longer I live, I crave humility in people almost more than any other trait – in my friends, in my leaders. I am my worst self in the absence of humility. The higher I place God, the easier it is to locate my own station. When He reigns, I am free to just be a forgiven sinner who doesn’t always have to be right or perfectly understood or popular. When I reign, I have much to defend and protect, because how else am I going to stay on top? With God solidly in charge and honored, I am liberated to just be an ordinary girl who loves Jesus and loves people.

Maybe it’s a good time to take a good look at your tribe, lovely as it may be. Is it pretty homogenous? Is there any diversity? Does it sometimes feel like an echo chamber with the same ideas, same grievances, same perspectives, same future? Take a risk. Get out there. Open yourself up to different. Be someone else’s different. You’ll always love your chicken and fries (who doesn’t??), but you just might discover that you also love tikka masala with raita.

Who knew??

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I am on an Indian food kick and the end is nowhere in sight.
Thank you for understanding and indulging my near constant references.