Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Safety in Numbers: Perspective, and Not Getting Stuck in Your Ways

A conversation on the tea trade forums, which references an article about how Twinings "New" Earl Grey formulation is not being well-received, inspired this post.

That article is about long-standing drinkers of Twinings old Earl Grey being outraged at this changed formulation...and it's about this phenomenon in general, and what it says about our tastes in tea, and in food, and about how we live our lives in general. The following collage of some of my favorite teas, with a few herbs too, is a sneak-peek of the solution to these problems: safety in numbers, not quantity of anything, but rather, diversity, the number of different teas we drink, which can be an empowering analogy for giving us stability in all aspects of our life:

To be honest, I've never liked Twinings' Earl Grey, even though I think Twinings is a company that, among the mainstream tea bag brands, does British tea well. One of my favorite tea bags is their Ceylon Orange Pekoe which I gave a fairly favorable review--better than some loose-leaf Ceylons I bought from Upton, my favorite tea company. But this is just a matter of personal taste, and is not terribly relevant. What is relevant here is that Twinings Earl Grey was the same for many years, and it changed. And people were upset. This type of reaction is actually rather normal and almost expected, whenever a product that has stayed consistent for so long changes. People get stuck in their ways.

What do we get angry about?

The article describes people as being very angry about this change. "An affront to tea", people posting angry complaints on Twinings' company site. I'll be the first to admit that I get angry about a lot of things. But I don't really get angry about tea. I get critical of tea, herbal tea, tea companies, and their business practices...in fact, if you read this blog a lot, you've probably read a lot of critical posts lately. But I'm not angry.

What do I get angry about? I get angry about injustice, and economic exploitation, especially when people profit through dishonest or coercive means. I get angry about sexual assault and rape, especially when it happens to people I care about, but really, when it happens to anyone. I get angry about people showing blatant disregard for other people and for their community, such as vandalizing common areas such as parks or public buildings on college campuses. And I get especially angry at people thinking that their wealth or social status entitles them to treat others of "lower status" with disrespect. I find this attitude abhorrent and it makes me want to just crush them with my bare hands.

I don't always handle or express my anger gracefully. Sometimes I lose my temper, and, believe it or not, I have actually yelled at people in public, using quite colorful language. More often, I just sit and stew and let it ruin my day or get me into a global, negative mood that makes me quite unpleasant to be around. And, in addition to the things above, I also sometimes get angry about superficial or irrelevant things. I want to make clear that I am not some sort of "enlightened being" who knows how to effectively handle my emotions all of the time.

But I do know one thing. I don't get angry about the quality of tea...even when it changes, and even when tea is really really bad. Why?

A sense of perspective:

It seems silly to me to get genuinely upset about a tea's formulation changing when there are so many other more important things to get upset about. It also makes me wonder who these people are who are getting upset, and what their lives are like.

There are some aspects of my life that I have found very difficult over the years. One of them is friendship, through various moves. I've formed so many wonderful, close friendships over the years, and one by one, I've seen friends move far away, or I've moved from my friends. First, I moved from high school, then my college friends dispersed, then I moved from Cleveland to Delaware, then to Connecticut, briefly to the west coast, and back to the east. Even when I stay in one place, people seem to come and go. Even when my friends stay in one town, they often vanish into their careers, school, family obligations, or other activities that eat up all available time in their lives. This process has been very painful to me, and continues to be painful on an ongoing basis.

And then I read the news and I read about earthquakes, floods, war, violence, and I read about the U.S. and our stagnating economy, and I see the partisan bickering and I see my own feeble attempts to build a consensus between liberals and conservatives, falling on deaf ears or being ignored as I post my articles to the facebook and twitter feeds.

And I sit here reading about people who are upset about tea and I wonder...where are these people's sense of priorities? Have they ever lost a loved one, do they care about war or poverty? I suspect that most of them probably have, and probably do care. But why are they getting upset about tea? Are they perhaps channelling their frustration into something irrelevant in the global picture, because they feel powerless to do anything about the things in life that really do matter, much like I often do?

Back to safety in numbers, and diversity:

While I'd like to think that I don't get upset about tea because I have a better sense of priorities and greater perspective, there may be a more superficial and less enlightened reason that is perhaps more powerful: safety in numbers. I can't possibly be upset if one particular tea changes, because I drink so many different teas. I'm never particularly let down when one of those teas changes or even if it is completely taken away, because there are so many other great teas out there.

But is safety in numbers really so superficial, or does it work because it creates perspective through diversity? If this approach works for tea, can it possibly work for helping us to cope with and address some of the really gory, gruesome problems in our lives, like the ones I touched on above?

Perhaps. I have personally found that when I've had a greater diversity of experiences in my life, and when I've come into contact with a broader range of people, and immersed myself in the lives and experiences of people of different ages and backgrounds and circumstances, it has given me a sense of perspective and stability that I don't have if I keep my life more homogeneous. With this greater perspective, I am better able to think up solutions to a broad range of problems in my own life as well as in the lives of others, and I am less likely to react in non-constructive ways to things that genuinely upset me.

What do you think? Does any of this ring true with your own experience?

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