What I Learned from Oatmeal

Good oatmeal is lumpy. More than that, it’s just one big lump in your bowl. Eating it requires taking your spoon and chopping into the lump and hoping the added milk softens the lump into an edible texture. What? You don’t agree? Your experience is that oatmeal is served warm and semi-liquid? Well, I must disagree with you. I’ve tasted warm oatmeal and found it quite distasteful. The texture is all wrong and the sight of it is most unappealing.

Why this disagreement? Our different perceptions are likely based on our early experiences with oatmeal. When I was a child, my parents were always up and dressed early each morning while I happily slept. Dad’s morning chore was fixing breakfast (a task I inherited and now do daily). The breakfast meal back then never varied; it was always oatmeal. Whenever I see a round container of Quaker Oats, my childhood breakfast memories come flooding back. When I eventually awoke, dressed and went to the breakfast table, the oatmeal had turned cold. It had become a cold lump. To me, this was normal; this was oatmeal. Each morning I took my spoon, chopped into the oatmeal, poured milk onto the chunks and enjoyed my breakfast. Through early childhood, grade school, junior high and then high school. Lumpy, cold, oatmeal. A great meal to start my day and I enjoyed it. I should also add that Mom and Dad always stayed at the table, talking of activities for the day, reading the morning paper and listening to the radio sometimes. Family and oatmeal.

It’s not the lumps, is it? It was my experience and my memories. Our values are based on our backgrounds to a great degree. When taught any subject while a child, the belief tends to stay with us forever unless consciously challenged. Moving away from those memories, considering other points of view, investigating possibly contradictory facts — they’re all difficult tasks we would prefer to avoid. Whether it’s how to tie a necktie (Dad taught me the Double Windsor knot), buying a 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder car, or allowing gays to marry, our beliefs are largely based on what others have taught us. I recall being taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the American continent. A simple “fact”. As an adult I discovered that the real truth was more complex and more substantive. But that took work on my part. How many other beliefs do I have that are wrong or incomplete? If I am to grow emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, I need to always listen — really listen — when I hear information that I think is absolutely wrong. It might be right.