Once a month, my friend Tina and I get together at our favorite Polish deli with all its comforting Eastern European staples.
The minute the intoxicating smells of sausage and gravy greet us at the door, we are immediately set at ease.
This is what real food and a real world smell like—we laugh! The soup aroma takes over as we breathe deeply and allow it to seeps into our pours. No pretense, facades, or images to hold up here. We simply leave the West behind with its carb-free diets, 30-minute workouts, positive thinking jibber-jabber, and settle into our favorite vinyl booth over a hot plate of dumplings and goulash—and begin “kvetching.”
We stuff our faces while embracing a heritage deeply rooted in a long lineage of suffering and accepting a life that is not meant to be soft and rosy but rather full of obstacles and challenges. A heritage with an appreciation for the dark-sided underbelly of the human condition. A leaning into the yin over the yang, if you will.
We believe it comes from an ancestry that is familiar with the darkness of destruction and the long shadows of war, and how they affect many generations to come. As much as we appreciate being raised in the United States with its Western values of keeping it sunny and light at all costs, we often wonder if this imbalance creates a lapse in judgement, and perhaps, even reality. We wonder if this idealism to be great, exceptional, and all things winning is more detrimental than uplifting.
We came up with five suggestions that might help balance things out a bit and add a pinch of “yin” to a yang-obsessed culture:
Stop with the Constant Positivity.
We’re not “tiger moms”—far from it—our people were far from over-achievers, but we do wonder why parents in this country seem overly ambitious in praising their children. It’s not even about political correctness, it’s just about being realistic with a child and preparing them for the many failures that lie ahead. Mistakes are part of the learning process, so why not honor effort over success? It doesn’t have to be a choice between being right or wrong—even batteries have a positive and negative charge—but rather between courage and fear. Try something just to try it, not with the goal to excel or master it.
Stop Focusing on Winning. Again, we have nothing against winning, but isn’t it important to prepare children for the inevitability of losing some day? It’s going to happen, let’s face it, and there is nothing wrong with learning from mistakes rather than fearing them at all costs. I remember a Serbian soccer coach telling our group of suburban soccer moms that he expected our team to lose the upcoming game but that we encourage our kids to learn from the loss. I thought these women were going to string him up to a tree, (this was a guy who fought in the Balkan war) due to his unacceptable non-winning attitude. And yes, you guessed it, they lost that game. Big time!
Stop Making Blonde Synonymous with Beautiful. We need brunettes, blondes, everything in between, and equally distributed. Perhaps that is why blondes are stereotyped “ditzy” or as having “more fun?” Just skimming the surface and getting by with a giggle and a smile. No real appreciation for getting to the real meat and potatoes where all things grow juicy and ripe. Thank God for Pamda Lakshmi, an Indian-born model, who had the guts to stun a Western audience when she blatantly displayed her scar in strapless dresses on Top Chef. The long, jagged disfiguration wrapping down the length of her upper arm had a story, a history, something she was clearly proud of and not ashamed to expose in front of millions of people each week.
Stop Making Things so Sanitary. What’s with all the bleach? HGTV is filled to the brim with shows that take the old and rusty and remake them into all things shiny and new. Commercials, these days, are about spotless kitchen floors and bathrooms resembling sterile hospitals rather than places where people actually congregate, live, die, suffer, and thrive. Why hide the battles scars, the pain, or the evidence of everyday life? Life is messy not a garden party, so how can we learn from our mistakes if we are too busy cleaning and covering them up?
Embrace the Smells. Finally, where are all the amazing and not so amazing smells that remind us of our humanness. Hair that smells like coconut oil and deodorant that masks body odor under a floral or rainforest mist? Are we mannequins or people? I remember my husband saying that all of Europe smells like B.O. and guess where he wants to live more than anywhere else—Italy. Talk about smells. Not good or bad, just authentic, real, and full of the garbage that makes life interesting. Who wants floral gardenia when you can have a big, furry, wet dog to cuddle with on the sofa.
You see, reality doesn’t have to be a bad word just an awareness that if something doesn’t smell like truth. it probably isn’t.
And if something seems too good to be true—it probably is. An Eastern European instinctively knows that when a politician is suddenly poisoned after eating some bad sushi there is no time for guessing or looking for the silver lining. A primal cultivated gut takes over in these instances, and it’s time to head to the streets. They have learned that no amount of positive thinking or winning attitude can change the reality in front of them.
These are countries entrenched centuries deep in war and tyranny. Perhaps, the Western world still hasn’t experienced enough tragedy to understand that life is unpredictable and not under our control. This need for all things big, bold, and beautiful may just be a sign of immaturity and lack of experience. Or maybe a fear to see the darkness that lurks just below all things adorned and even gilded in gold within a tall tower in Manhattan.
Whatever the reasons, two things are true: First, reality has a way of showing itself whether we are ready for it or not. Second, the yin and yang are forever searching for balance and wholeness—one pendulum swing at a time.
Some swings are bigger and broader than others. This unsettling wobbliness is just the way life goes.
My hope is that our Western culture starts looking underneath its own glow of admiration sooner rather than later, otherwise we may be in for a seismic shift in yin energy that we never saw coming.
Author: Vera Snow
Editor: Deb Jarrett