I was out shopping other day, and I needed some frozen peas for a beef stew recipe I was planning. As I walked past the canned goods aisle and towards the freezers at the back of the store, I remembered how as a kid I would never eat frozen peas. I hated them. But the canned peas that we ate regularly growing up were okay, and to this day I prefer them. If you ask me, I would say that canned peas are better than frozen peas. But are they?
My wife disagrees with me on the peas. She thinks canned peas are disgusting, along with most other canned vegetables. They probably are. I know that, objectively, fresh vegetables are “better,” and that sometimes frozen veggies can be even “better” than the fresh. But they don’t tickle my taste buds the same way. I am used to the canned stuff.
My wife loves coffee. She didn’t used to, but now she can’t start her day without it. I hate coffee. I tried it once. It was like drinking a black cloud of death. I was told “it’s an acquired taste.” I responded, “Then it isn’t actually good. You’re just used to it.” And it’s true. Coffee is not good. Beer is not good. Chocolate isn’t really good, actually. We eat a huge number of things that don’t taste good, because we like the effect they have on our bodies. Maybe we get a buzz; maybe we get healthier; maybe we stay awake for our meeting. And our bodies, being the amazing creations that they are, realize that we are not going to stop having the terrible thing, so they change. Our bodies change, and suddenly we like the thing that was previously vile. And then, to complete the transformation, we actually forget (for the most part) how gross we once thought it was.
Cigarettes are like this, I am told. I see very few people take their first puff and then seem thrilled and at ease. No, they are usually coughing, spluttering, choking, and smiling weakly to show how non-lame they are to whichever jerk convinced them to try it in the first place. Of course addiction is different than just liking canned peas. But is it?
The more I think about my life, my decisions, my preferences, the more I wonder if I have any objectivity at all when it comes to quality. I try to think of things that are objectively “good.” Things I loved from the moment I encountered them. Hot dogs. Pachelbel’s Canon. Ghostbusters. Chewing gum. Books. Compassion. “Weird Al” Yankovic. Yes, there are things that are good. But how much of what I think is good and great and acceptable is merely what I am used to?
Think about your relationships.
Think about your job.
Think about your hobbies.
Think about your family.
Think about where you live.
Think about what you do.
Is it good? If someone else walked in, having never encountered you before, what would they say about your life? What? They are biased? Ok, fine, get a panel. Get ten people. Get a hundred. Are things working the way you want them to work? Do you like them because they are comfortable and familiar, or do you like them because they are helpful and good?
My wife sometimes accuses me of being too happy. She says that no matter what I am doing or where I am, I am happy with it. It’s mostly true. And I think it’s generally been a good thing. But it also can prevent me from moving forward. It can keep me from opportunities and changes that would be healthy and positive. But I want to keep doing what I like. And I like what I’m used to.
The world will never be a better place if we all just like what we’re used to. We need to look outside of our experiences and discover what is actually, objectively good. We may have different ideas about what that is. That’s okay. Your good can be different than my good. And some of what you are used to can be good. But it isn’t all. Let’s make the world better. Let’s learn the difference between what we’re used to and what we should want to be used to. It’s hard, I know. But I’m going to try.
I cut my hair last week. It is very short. I don’t like it. It is not what I’m used to. But I’m glad that I did it. Now to find something else to cut…