So here’s a joke I heard a while back:
A woman is teaching her daughter to cook a roast.
“The last step, before you put the meat in the pan, is to cut off just a little from both ends,” Mom says.
“Because you do. Now you lift it – “
“But why cut the meat off at the ends?”
Mom thinks. She doesn’t know. “Because that’s the way Grandma taught me.”
So they call Grandma and ask her, and she answers, “Because that’s the way my mother taught me to cook a roast. You always do that.”
Well, Great-Grandma is still around. So the next time the family visits, Mom and Grandma and the youngest girl ask her: “Nana, remember how, when you cook a roast, you always cut the ends off the meat before you put it in the pan?”
“Well, why do we do that?”
“I don’t know why you do it,” the old lady says. “I did it because my pan was too small to fit the whole roast.”
That story comes to mind whenever I see someone doing something that makes no sense, because they were taught that way. Like one lady who will only rinse dishes in cold water. That is engraved in her mind from way back: Dishes must be rinsed in cold water. I am free to picture a caring mother worrying that her little girl might be burned by turning on too much hot water, but to this lady, it’s simply the truth of the universe. Rinse dishes in cold water.
This first hit me when a friend helped me unpack and set up my kitchen after moving. “Where do you want your silverware?”
“Right here,” I pointed to the drawer.
“OK, so the knives will go here.”
“No,” I said. “I want that drawer for the big spoons and whisks and stuff.”
“THOSE should go in that drawer,” my friend said, and pointed to a drawer closer to the stove.
It made sense to put them close to the stove, but in my mind it was wrong. Those utensils always went in the drawer under the silverware. And to my friend, they always went next to the stove. We batted it around for ten minutes before we realized that there is no right or wrong about where to put things in a kitchen. We were bickering about where our mothers put them, which was dogma to each of us.
I touched on this in my previous post, about science proving the Five-Second-Rule wrong. The real result of that research to me (because the Rule was a joke, nothing more) is that kids grow up believing the things their mothers drum into their heads. Knives go here. Dishes get washed in cold water. Pick up a cookie within five seconds and there won’t be any germs on it. Those people are dirty and bad. Always wash your hands after making pee-pee.
We never question those things. Even those of us who loved the slogan “Question Authority!” don’t reach back to early childhood, dragging up the lessons Mom drilled every day, and holding them up to the light. That would be reinventing the wheel, right?
Maybe we should.