But Then … a Zig-Zag is a Spring in Three Dimensions

I once overheard a Waffle House waitress in the deep south telling a co-worker how proud of herself she was for making a chicken sandwich at home that tasted almost exactly like a McChicken.

I evaluated the white southern accent, the poor nature of the town, the business where she worked, what she said with pride, and drew some dismissive and critical conclusions about her as a person.

Now, we all make these sorts of judgements, either at the time or later, when we observe something that seems to be exactly what it is. What is NOT so common is going back back-and-forth in our evaluations to see how we can make what is said or done a good thing. This is called “fairness.”

In this example, it took years of that statement sticking in my mind before I came across an article talking about how much money McDonalds spends on research and development of each and every menu item. I then remembered the server, applied that newfound knowledge to her pride in making her chicken sandwich, and realized that by balancing the salty, sweet, and savory to mimic a McChicken, she had essentially made a million-dollar sandwich. Being fair about it, I was surprised at the fact that I was suddenly impressed, and I thought, “Good for her.” I even felt good for her.

But then I reflected on what the article had said about the perfect intersection of salty, sweet, and savory being the place that made the food the most addictive. Addictive like a drug. So that took me back to the critical side of my thinking and the view that she had succeeded at cooking culinary crack, which is no admirable feat at all, which again spoke to my initial negative assessment of her as a person.

But then I thought about all those guilty pleasures that I have, specifically Kraft spiral mac & cheese. It’s okay every once in a while, and I consider it comfort food. Framing her McChicken as comfort food made it okay, because we all make comfort food acceptable and good in our minds. So, the woman was suddenly a positive force for good again.

But then I switched back to the critical when I wondered how much “comfort food” she eats. She wasn’t the most svelte beauty ever to work in a southern Waffle House; quite the opposite. Did she feed her kids the same “comfort food” everyday that she clearly must eat as a matter of routine? Because if so, not only is that unhealthy, but it’s not comfort food at all, it’s crap American food addiction which is a real problem for populations in the deep fried south.

But then I switched to compassion and wondered if she had suffered mental and physical abuse growing up (or currently) which would, of course, excuse the overeating and make her a victim of circumstance without support or services to teach her positive coping mechanisms and proper nutrition and exercise. Perhaps the soul of her McChicken was made of pain and victimhood, in which case it really wasn’t my place to judge.

But then I doubled back to the critical view when I remembered that she had been well over forty, on her way to fifty, and if she hadn’t thought about how she dealt with these things before, then she would be just another American who never followed the excellent Delphic advice “Know thyself.” So I mentally caged her in the critical side of my brain again.

But then I addressed in my imagination the overlooked realm of time and saw her as a little girl who had gone with her daddy every Saturday to McDonalds in his dusty old truck where the two would have father-daughter time over their McChicken sandwiches. He would then pass away too soon, leaving her and her mother heartbroken, and she mourned his loss in the quiet moments at the stove, longing to share a McChicken with him one last time. I wished I could give her a hug.

So that lasted a while, and she was a sad saint in my mind. That is, until I went keto and started seeing overweight people everywhere shoveling fast-food into themselves as fast as they could swallow. I remembered an article from the satirical newspaper The Onion from years ago that “reported” on Taco Bell serving food in a feed bag that hooked on the head like the kind used for horses, and I remembered there had been some legitimate outrage that the article was fake, as there was apparently a demand for that food delivery system in real life. Again, the server came to mind, her McChicken was deplorable again, and she was just more southern white trash. Which made me feel bad; like I was being a bad person for committing a terrible thought crime against her.

But then I went to the aid of my ego and realized that all those years ago I hadn’t treated her differently than anyone else, I paid my bill, and I gave her a good tip. In other words, so what if I had a negative thought about her and her damned garbage sandwich? No one was living rent free in my head judging my thoughts except me, so why not evaluate and judge to my heart’s content?

It was at this point that I paused and evaluated the whole thought process I had gone through over several years of realizations, recollections, and imaginings about this random woman.

There was objective bad and there was objective good related to the woman’s homemade McChicken sandwich.

There was subjective good and subjective bad related to it, as well.

There was purely speculative good and bad.

And there was my personal evaluation of all of it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone at least did a zig-zag in their minds when they make an absolute judgement about someone else? Meaning, wouldn’t it be nice if people merely thought of both the objective good and the objective bad of what someone else says or does? Call it sympathy, if you want; call it empathy if you can. What it comes down to is trying to see the other person’s point of view even if you have knee-jerk disdain for them or what they say. That’s a zig-zag, a back and forth of pro and con. Only if someone just wants to be fair, of course … at least on the surface.

And if people can do that, why not indulge from there in a three-dimensional zig-zag thought process that incorporates subjectivity, creativity, and imagination into the equation, seeing the person as an individual with life circumstances, joys, sadnesses, memories, an upbringing, acquisition of knowledge and wisdom through time, and the ability to change?

How much nicer would that be for everyone if we didn’t judge and hate all at once at the drop of a single word like, “McChicken.”

It certainly would be a nicer place to live, I’ll bet you.

But the simple, unavoidable fact is, after years of occasional, circumstantial reflection and thought about the woman, I came to one, undeniable fact about that random waitress in a Waffle House in the deep south …

It’s her life, and her life is none of my business.

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