Thursday, September 12, 2013

Would You Like a Sammich?

Not long ago, I had a discussion with a teacher at my school about religion vs. ethics. He knows I'm an atheist (he's not, though I don't know the particulars of his beliefs beyond "Christian"), and we did the usual round-n-round about how being an atheist does not, in itself, confer any particular ethical framework or lack thereof. He asked me, then, what my ethical philosophy was.

I said, "Summed up in one sentence? 'Would you like a sandwich?'"

He laughed, but I clarified. I love to cook for people. I like it when people are warm, safe, happy, and fed. It doesn't matter to me if they don't have my ethical outlook or, indeed, if their outlook is fundamentally different to mine. If they're in my space, I want their needs met, and then maybe we can come to some kind of consensus. But I have a really hard time turning people away, ideologically, because they're different (or even just flat-out wrong).

That doesn't mean I like them, of course. There are people who espouse really horrible things. Would I invite them to share my table and my food? Provided that there's no actual threat to me or my family, sure. I have sandwiches to spare.

We joke about the "eat, eat, eat" stereotype from folks' cultures; I've seen it most often connected to Greek and Italian families. But my family is of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction, and my mother is much the same way. There's always food.

There's an intrinsic amount of trust involved in this attitude, of course, and that burns me once in a while. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to believe them. I'm highly susceptible to a good story. I recognize this, and I try to be smart and skeptical.

But you still get your sammich.

Last week two guys came to my door selling magazines. (Go ahead, start rolling your eyes now.) I gave them a check without Googling their company; it was a mistake, the whole pitch was a scam. Fortunately, I put a stop payment on the check, so it's not actually going to cost me anything. (For the record: Midwest Circulation is a scam, and they will say anything to you that they think will get you to part with your money.)

Now, what happens if those guys show up at my house again, saying, "hey, the check bounced?"

Provided they're not threatening, I offer them a sammich (or a cup of coffee, or something. The sammich is a metaphor, much like the minotaur).

My wording choice - and my misspelling of "sandwich" - is deliberate. "Go make me a sammich" is the rallying cry of guys trying to drive women out of video games (well, it's one of them).

I appropriate that. I take it for my own. Yes, I will make you a sammich. Yes, you are welcome to ask. Yes, you might be a terrible person saying terrible things, but the strength that I have is to offer hospitality anyway. That I can do is privilege on a pretty large scale. I recognize that, too, and I attempt to use that privilege in a beneficial way.

But that's the message: You don't get to use this phrase as a way to control or to reinforce gender roles in a way that makes you feel powerful. I take that role - provider of food - and although I can only rarely provide it to people I don't know, I do it when I can. Because that feels moral to me, for reasons I cannot explain and I can only assume are rooted in my own experiences and the ongoing tapestry (meal?) of my life.

People gotta eat, even the people who behave badly. I would rather cook and teach than starve and berate. That's just me.

(And again, I realize that this preference is one afforded to me in large part because I don't wind up on the receiving end of the abuse. I get that, and I don't judge anyone else for how they choose to respond. I would just personally prefer to make sammiches.)

Much of this, by the way, was spurred by reading this site, which has a lot of thought-provoking articles.