That's Why There Is Chocolate and Vanilla

My last post was centered on a quote that means a lot to me, so I have decided to do a series of “quote posts,” as there seem to be quite a few that have been passed on by influential people in my life whose wisdom has helped shape who I am. I’m hoping their words might get you to thinking, too.

Today, we have one of my mama’s favorite sayings: That’s why there is chocolate and vanilla. She has quoted this to me for the entirety of my life, and I love it. It is her way of saying: Just because you like it, doesn’t mean I have to. We all have our own opinions; we all have our own views.

And how boring would life be if it were all vanilla.

My mama is about as black and white as it gets; there is no grey in her life. Something is wrong or it is right; something is good or it is bad. I’ve heard her use this in many different contexts, and I think it applies in a multitude of ways.

Today, I recognize this quote as the perfect example of tolerance. Mama staunchly believes that her way is the right way, but she has the maturity to realize that not everyone believes as she does. And that’s okay. Doesn’t mean she is going to change her mind (believe me; ain’t gonna happen.) It just means that she knows there is a different way. Doesn’t mean she has to embrace it. Doesn’t mean she has to choose it.

Quite simply, she was trying to tell me to be respectful.

When I was a teenager, I feel certain she was trying to teach me to be respectful of her….a vital lesson, certainly. But she was also trying to teach me tolerance and respect of anyone, anywhere, who was different than I.

The older we get, I find, the more set in our ways we become. We have finally decided on what we like and don’t like, how we believe or don’t believe, and have settled a bit into our own skin.

This is a double-edged sword, in my opinion.

As we get a bit closer to defining ourselves, not afraid like we were as teenagers or young adults, worried that our opinions wouldn’t sit well with others, that we might stand out from the crowd and be noticed—the horror—we also run the risk of shunning people or groups or concepts that we don’t agree with. Finally, we know where we stand on political or religious issues. Finally, we believe we have a parenting style and we understand it. Finally, we get to just be who we are.

But in discovering in ourselves, does that mean we have chosen chocolate or vanilla, banning the other for life?

I hope not.

I grew up in a small private school that was 99% white. The other 1% was Indian. I did not have meaningful relationships with anyone who was of a different ethnicity or race until much later in life. Now I have several friends who look—and think---differently than I.

My son attends my alma mater, but it looks entirely different than it did when I was a student. His 3K class was fondly called The United Nations, as his classmates were not only Caucasian and African-American, but one hailed from Mexico, one from Venezuela, and one from India. He also had a friend in his class who had Down’s Syndrome, and she was one of his favorite class mates. Seeing pictures of Mac with his friends of all different colors, who looked different and spoke differently than he, made me really happy. I didn’t have that growing up, and I want that for my child. I want him to know about other cultures. I want him to realize other families do things differently than we do.

I want him to be respectful.

One day, Mac looked at his arm and looked at mine and said, “Hey Mama! We are the same color!” I felt my heart sink as I thought that the day had come when he noticed people’s skin. But then he said, “We are both grey!” I realized then that I was meeting my goal as a parent: not classifying people by the color of their skin, but by other attributes that could differentiate one person from another.

I also realized I needed a tan.

However, the day did come, and Mac now recognizes that people are different colors. But this is not something he contemplates too hard because his world is not the world I grew up in, where someone who was different stood out. He has begun his young life with an entire Baskin Robbins of people, already grasping the concept that “chocolate and vanilla” can work really well together.

And if they don’t, it probably has nothing to do with his or her ethnicity or race; rather, it may be because there is a fundamental “heart” difference. It may be because that person is mean. It may be because that person likes Superheroes and Mac is a tractor kid. It may be because he or she just doesn’t get Mac’s humor (as sometimes, only a mama or daddy can do that). But it isn’t because of what they look like on the outside.

I learned just how different chocolate and vanilla can be when I moved to London at 25, pretty much just because I really wanted to do so. I may not have looked particularly different to Londoners, as long as I wore all black, but the second I opened my mouth, anyone in hearing distance knew I was by no means a local. My Southern accent is pretty stout, but it sounded even stronger surrounded by a whole lot of Brits.

I had no idea if I would fit in there, if I would find a niche, if I would make friends in this enormous city in a foreign country. After all, I was the vanilla to their chocolate. I was a small town, Southern girl who was used to talking to complete strangers on the street, going to church on Sunday, driving everywhere I went, and being more consumed with the personal lives of people in my hometown than I would ever be with politics or foreign affairs. Londoners are quite the opposite.

But I did make friends, and I found a little niche; there was one pub into which I could walk and more than a couple of people knew my name. One friend I made turned out to be more than just a casual acquaintance: Emma has become one of my best, closest, dearest, forever friends. We are different, surely. Our point of reference is night and day. We grew up in completely separate worlds, literally. But we don’t have a “heart” difference; we are connected by our sameness on the big issues: how we believe people should be treated, what we want for each other and ourselves, what we think is funny, special, and interesting.

But probably, the thing we love most is having really good, deep, detailed conversations about our differences. We love to explore and discuss them, and even though we are both passionate about our own beliefs, as we have both gotten to that confident place—if we disagree, I’m not going to change her mind and she’s not going to change mine—we really like to hear each other’s. In other words, on some issues, she is never gonna be vanilla and I am never going to be chocolate.

However, we can present our side, challenging the other to just look, to just see what we see, to simply understand where we are coming from, with respect. And we walk away from those conversations more informed, without an iota of fear that our differences will become a wedge in our relationship.

I may be vanilla and she may be chocolate, but we are pretty content being different, yet so much the same.

You may know if you are vanilla or if you are chocolate. Heck, you may be strawberry or butterscotch or a big swirl of all of the above. It is my hope that, even if you solidly fall into one category or another, you will have a taste of another every now and then, letting your polar opposite come into your life and kick around a while. You may be surprised at what you learn and how you feel.

Because the point is not to agree.

The point is not to embrace.

The point is not even to understand.

The point is to respect another flavor.

That’s why there is chocolate and vanilla.

Tile image source here. Top image source here.

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