There are some things in life that seem to simply require an “and” between them–some combinations that are so right that the sum is greater than the parts. Cookies and milk. Pizza and beer. Burgers and fries. And of course, perhaps the best combination of all time, chocolate and peanut butter. And really–who could possibly argue with the perfection of peanut butter’s salty, savory umami flavor and chocolate’s slightly bitter yet lusciously sweet complexity and richness? None of course. Ah, but more on that later.
This talk about “ands” makes me stop and think about what it is that makes a great combination. We tend to think of combinations as being a pairing of similar things and while that certainly helps, that’s not necessarily what makes a combination good.
I remember hearing something during a church group gathering in junior high that has stuck with me all of my life: if two people were the same, one of them wouldn’t be necessary.
It’s such a simple statement, but it’s so so very true and, to hear it when I was in junior high, that dangerous age where individuality is the very worst and most frightening thing, it was truly a watershed moment. I remember my friend Ruth and I looking at each other smiling–“of course” we both thought. She and I had a lot in common, but were indeed very different. She was sparkling and light and girly, I was funny and rough edged and tomboyish, but we had a blast together always. She softened my rough edges and lightened my mood, I made her braver and added just a bit of gravity to her high-flying wings.
My friendship with Ruth was the beginning of learning that our friends do not need to be exact copies of ourselves. The hunger for sameness in friends is really a hunger for validation in our selves. So of course that begins in our school years–when we’re trying to decide who we are, what we think, are we ok, are we likeable. Finding friends that mirrored ourselves was a logical way to gaze at our own souls surreptitiously, to make sure no one challenged or contradicted our fragile, burgeoning perspectives, to validate that yes–we are on the right path while eliminating any clear threat.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to get stuck there. It is simple and unchallenging and we are lazy and loathe to change; our world views become static and rote because we are always in agreement with everyone around us. We are safe.
But if we want to enjoy really great combinations, rewarding relationships that make us better people, we have to reach out and connect with those who seem not at all like us. We have to open up and listen, consider what they’re saying and evaluate it against our own thoughts and opinions–not to hone our defense of our own viewpoints, but to see if perhaps it’s time for an update. A shift. A new perspective. Great combinations share common interests, common values, but they’re also a combining of differing experiences, differing histories, differing politics, genders, orientations, faiths, ethnicities, etcetera, etcetera.
That delicate balance of what we hold in common and the differences that make us unique, that balance is a true sweet spot. In a similar sweet spot, one might find today’s cake: chocolate cake with layers of peanut butter frosting. The most classic combination of the modern age. The tender, moist, dense texture of the cake marries well with the smooth, creaminess of the frosting and the crunch of finely chopped peanuts. The sweet depth of the chocolate balances the umami saltiness of the peanut butter. The flavors share a similar depth, a similar strength of flavor, yet it’s their differences that make the cake truly worthwhile. And of course, the peanut butter cups on top don’t hurt anybody.
Today’s cake is a perfect combination. And while it’s not noble enough to balance liberalism and conservatism, cross a racial divide, or breach the thick walls encircling religion, it is delicious enough to at least bring a group together around a table. Because with cake comes community. And that’s a fine