Diversity, Divisions, and the Politics of the Taco Bar

Did you know that a small percentage of people hate cilantro because to them it tastes like feet? Weird, right? But that's just how it goes. Luckily, you live in a society that embraces a variety of perspectives and options for dining. Cilantro is readily available for you to enjoy, if you choose. It's right there on the buffet. So if you like the taste of cilantro, that's great - have some.

Maybe you were taught a love of cilantro by family, friends, or community. This is even better: you were introduced to something you enjoy by people you care about, and so eating cilantro is enjoyable both for its own merits, and because it connects you to those you love. Maybe it's even become a sort of tradition for you, getting together with dear ones for cilantro. To be brought together this way is enviable in this age of disconnectedness.

Perhaps you're a little more neutral on cilantro - you don't hate it, but you don't love it either. In that case, you might still choose to partake if it offered the other benefits - family, community, love, connection, tradition. Outwardly, you'd look just like every other cilantro eater, but inwardly it might be more about the trappings of cilantro than the cilantro itself. Still, no problem there - why not be a member of a community that loves and supports you? Cilantro isn't hurting anyone.

Now, this is where things get a little more complicated.

It's possible that you're in the minority predisposed to despise cilantro. But because of pressure from family and tribe, you're pretending to like it. You so desire the acceptance and love of your community, that you stomach the dreadful taste regularly, pretending all the while to enjoy it.

Is that bad? Maybe. We can probably agree it's less optimal than the earlier scenarios. One might suggest that you are, in some way, not being true to yourself - even that you are trading away honesty and self-love for false acceptance. That might be a fair characterization of a situation causing significant stress in your life. Or, it might be an extreme overstatement of a small concession. Maybe it's really not such a big deal, you don't mind the flavor that much, and the benefits outweigh the costs. The only person who can really make that decision is you.

You could, if you desired, be advised by others on that question. You might decide that the best advice is to be had from fellow cilantro-haters, since they share an understanding of your experience. Or, you might place a premium on advice from other members of your inner circle, to whom you choose to disclose your dilemma privately - after all, they better understand your life as it is today, and they know you better personally. Maybe you'll even find others in your allegedly pro-cilantro support system who secretly hate the stuff. Either way, only you can decide what's right for you. Whether you continue to hide your aversion to the leafy herb, or whether (and how) to disclose your disdain, is a choice you have to make.

It's also possible that you would disclose your hatred of it in confidence, and then that confidence would be broken. That might create a whole other set of problems, which likely would make you wish immediately that your blabber-mouthed confidant hadn't disclosed your secret. Over time, you might continue to deplore the disclosure, or you might grow to believe that your life got better because of it. That would depend on your situation and specifics, including how badly your inner circle rejected you, how strong of a replacement support system you could find, and what sorts of resultant experiences you attributed to the disclosure as time went on.

But wait. We're getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, unless and until you both dislike cilantro, and disclose your feelings on the subject (or have them disclosed on your behalf), essentially, you are a cilantro proponent. And some cilantro proponents - maybe you, maybe others - may become cilantro-advocates. They may introduce newcomers to cilantro. They may extol its virtues, its flavor, and the benefits of being a part of the pro-cilantro community. They may even actively recruit others to join.

The overseers of your pluralistic dining society will probably be okay with this. There's nothing wrong with sharing stories of what's working for you; nothing wrong with recruiting. By the same token, if proselytizing turned to violence, we would probably all agree that it wouldn't be acceptable. So this feels comfortable, clear, and correct: It's OK to publish papers on the nutritional value of cilantro, but not to round up the cilantro-haters and slap them.

Where things get dicier (pardon the pun) is if overzealous recruiting turns coercive instead of aggressive. Maybe a bunch of cilantro-lovers get together and decide that it's of paramount importance for them and their children to live in an environment that supports cilantro. That sounds reasonable, but the thing is, we're all eating from the same buffet. So, this group of cilantro-lovers decides that everyone in the taco line should be required to take some cilantro - that anyone who doesn't shouldn't get a taco. Their reasoning might go something like this: we can't keep cilantro-haters out of the buffet, and we don't wish them any harm, but keeping them out of our taco line helps us as a population to ensure our future - maybe even our very survival - since cilantro is so important.

Because the cilantro-lovers make up such a large percentage of the buffet population, they stand a decent chance of having their policy request taken seriously. This is especially true since their numbers are inflated by two specific subgroups: first, by the as-yet-undisclosed cilantro-haters in their midst who have been opting out of tacos for years anyway; and second, by legitimate cilantro-lovers among them who believe the policy is too draconian. Both groups might dislike the proposed policy, but fear that speaking out would lead to being labeled and rejected as the surreptitious cilantro-haters that they may (or may not) actually be.

Now, the overseers of our pluralistic dining society have a problem. Should a minority of cilantro-haters be denied all tacos just to ensure the comfort of the majority? Or, should a majority of cilantro-lovers be asked to forgo their purported values in order to allow their fellow buffet citizens equal taco access?

Your opinion on such a difficult question would ideally depend on justice and fairness, but it won't. In real life, it will mostly depend upon which side of the issue you occupy. Really, we all just want people to agree with us. That's natural, and human, but it doesn't exactly make us objective decision-makers, because we're predisposed to agree with our own tribes.

That's why we're talking about cilantro right now, and not a more incendiary topic, even though there are plenty of options.

So what's the answer? Well, in pondering the question, it's useful to remember that a variety of research in a wide set of circumstances has repeatedly asserted that we humans make better decisions when surrounded by others who disagree with us. It's less comfortable, certainly. But to exist only among like-minded associates diminishes our connection to objective reality and reduces the smartness of our actions. Whether isolating ourselves in this way impoverishes our metaphorical spirit is open to debate, but the fact that over time it impoverishes our day-to-day lives is clear: What is more comfortable in the short run dumbs us down, thereby damaging us, in the long run.

Diversity and debate work for us; isolation and comfort work against us.

So, since we know what's good for us - speaking more pragmatically than metaphorically - let's implement it. The buffet overseers should probably keep the taco line open to everyone. And it falls to you and to me and to the rest of us to accept and even welcome the presence of differences, including enjoying the taco line shoulder-to-shoulder with each other despite our various opinions regarding cilantro. If we're smart, we'll do this calmly, caringly, and in respectful recognition of the fact that we have more similarities than differences. And, we'll figure out a way to coexist in full recognition that we're likely to keep disagreeing on this topic, but that disagreement won't preclude us from agreeing on other topics. (Pro- and anti-cilantro sentiments seem so much less serious at the dessert bar. Or the death bed.)

The only alternative is to draw divisions, become adversarial, fight amongst ourselves, and get dumber in the process. It's hard to imagine either side would want to do that.

That's my opinion, anyway. I believe it to be consistent not only with decades of research, but also with decades of my own experience with group and societal functioning. To me, this is a no-brainer.

Your opinion may vary, of course, and that's fine too - as long as you don't slap me or take away my tacos.