Susan Sparks: The politics of sweet potato casserole
Way more than politics and religion, my family’s passionate holiday fights revolve around food. Specifically, the battle lines are drawn over whether marshmallows or brown sugar and pecans are the best topping for the always wondrous sweet potato casserole.
I, myself, am a brown sugar/pecan warrior, while other, lesser beings in my family, believe that white sticky goo should be used as a topping. And so, every year, there’s a stand-off. Eyes narrow, arms fold and the fight begins.
When you think about it, the actual casserole conflict is pretty lame. Both toppings are sugary, both will put you into a diabetic coma with equal speed, and both — in the end — make a great casserole. Surely, somewhere in all this goodness, there has to be a happy medium. There’s too much yumminess here to waste on petty infighting.
Sadly, the infighting in our nation is much like my family’s sweet potato feud: tragically polarized. It’s like the San Andreas Fault has jumped out of California and embedded itself in the hearts of the American people.
We’re right; they’re wrong. End of story.
Our national perspective is like a greeting card I saw recently that depicted two ladies from the 1950s smoking cigarettes, one saying to the other, “All I know is one of us is right ... And the other is you.”
That is American down to the ground.
What if we come at our conflicts in a different way? What if, instead of a direct marshmallow/brown sugar pecan throw down, we use the wisdom of St. Francis, who said, “Let me not seek as much ... to be understood as to understand?”
Conflict resolution experts call this interest-based negotiation; meaning that you focus on why the issue is important to the other side, rather than the rightness or wrongness of your respective positions. By identifying shared values, you find common ground, and it is from that place of commonality that solutions more easily flow.
If I apply this to my family’s great marshmallow debate, I quickly see that our shared value is our delight in sweets. We’re just fighting over which ingredients can best lead us to that shared value.
Our political issues can be approached in the same way. In almost every conflict, there is common ground. For example, we all want a better world for our children, fair and equal treatment for our citizens, protection from terrorism, and clean air and water. We’re just fighting over how we get there.
Maybe this Thanksgiving holiday, we can consider a new recipe. For our wondrous sweet potato casserole, how about a sugary topping of all three ingredients: marshmallow, brown sugar AND pecans? Or half brown sugar/pecan and half marshmallow? Or how about we use neither and top the sweet potatoes with Cap’n Crunch?
So, too, let us consider a new recipe for this nation — our wondrous casserole of ethnicities, races and religions. We need a fresh approach that focuses on our commonalities and then finds a way to combine our needs, hopes and dreams into a dish that feeds us all.
America has too much to offer, too many blessings, and too rich a history to be brought down by petty infighting. Partisan politics have no place in a nation where all are created equal. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving this year by acknowledging our commonalities and giving thanks for what we share as a family of Americans. Surely, somewhere in all this goodness, there has to be a happy medium.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com