I have some devastating news to share. I’m still trying to come to grips with it, so if I stumble through this confession, please forgive me.
I no longer like sweet tea.
As a Southern girl born and raised, I fully expect lightning to hit me at any moment. I fear a mob hoisting fire and pitchforks are on their way as we speak, ready to punish my heresy to the fullest extent of Southern law. I’ve failed you all. Forgive me.
Since this is confession time, I might as well tell you that it’s not just sweet tea. I now eat my oatmeal plain, too. I forgo sugary salad dressing—actually, all salad dressing (sacreligious!), and I can’t even bring myself to order cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. I used to beg my parents to mail to me Life cereal from across the ocean, but now it makes me gag a little bit. My son and I tried to split a Double Doozie (aka, two chocolate chip cookies sandwiched with icing), and we couldn’t even finish half of it. This is the same girl who once ate an entire Double Doozie that I’d dropped on the floor at the mall, icing side down. Don’t judge—I was pregnant and desperate.
In my defense, I’d like to say it’s not my fault. Not really. I lived in a low-sugar-tolerance culture for the last seven years. I was indoctrinated in the ways of hot, unsweetened tea and not mixing sweet with savory; of cereal that wasn’t laced with sweeteners. Slowly, I lost my extreme sweet tooth, so now I’m hypersensitive to hyper sweetness.
It’s not just the sugar, you know. There are other things, good and bad, of which I now have a heightened awareness—things I didn’t really notice when I was immersed in American culture. Giant cars. Southern kindness. The crazy amount of seasonal paraphernalia at Walmart.
It’s interesting what can be detected in a culture once you’ve been outside of it, and even more so when you’re experiencing it for the first time. There’s a lesson for us all here that extends beyond Walmart and sweet tea: What can we learn from those who are on the outside—the minorities, the outliers, the ones who don’t necessarily speak the lingo of our particular culture? When we’re immersed—when this is all we’ve ever known—there are crucial things we miss, critical issues and problems we just can’t see. We need someone on the outside of our homes, our communities, and our culture to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed this…” It’s vital that we listen.
My husband and I have seen firsthand how important this principle is. Throughout our married life, many people have stayed in our home for extended periods of time. We try to make it a point at the end of every visit to ask, “What did you observe? What are we missing?” While we may know each other better than anyone else, we know that our closeness also causes blindness. We often can’t see the forest for the trees.
To be honest, we’ve often responded to this feedback with defensiveness. “Well, you just don’t understand…” or “That was just an isolated incident. What our house is really like is….” But usually, eventually, we come around, because we know we need objective voices to be our eyes and ears. Even if we don’t like what we hear, we know we would be fools not to seriously consider what they have to say.
How can you listen to the voice of the outsider today, to people who may not be immersed in your world, but can see things you might not be able to see and offer a different perspective? Maybe you could ask for honest feedback from someone who’s outside of your inner circle, or read an insightful article from someone across your party line, or consider pressing issues like racial reconciliation, how to care for the poor, and a compassionate solution for Dreamers, but consider them from the perspective of those who are directly affected by these policies.
Also? Invite people into your life with whom you have nothing in common. As Beth Moore recently tweeted, “We don’t have to agree with people to learn from them, and we don’t have to agree on all things to agree on some things.”
The day I only listen to people in my circle who are just like me is the day I drastically limit my own growth and miss out on the richness to be found in diversity. I don’t know about you, but I think that would be a pretty sad day. Sadder than a newfound dislike for sweet tea.