Social Philosophy in a Bowl of Party Mix

Homemade party mix is a holiday tradition at my house. In case you don’t know, party mix is a snack food that involves mixing a bunch of delicious snack foods together in a big pan and then putting them in the oven, increasing their deliciousness by an order of magnitude. (Can you tell I know nothing about the dark arts of cooking?) You can buy pre-made party mix, but the real action is making your own. My mom’s party mix typically contains all three varieties of Chex, Cheerios, pretzels, Goldfish, and mixed nuts. It’s not really Christmas at our house until I smell party mix wafting through the halls.

The thing is, though… I love party mix more than anyone in the world, but I don’t like everything in it. In particular, I hate wheat Chex. If you listen to me eat party mix, it sounds something like “Nom, nom, nom, nom, ew wheat Chex, nom nom.” When I’m done with a bowl of party mix you can always tell because nothing remains except a small pile of wheat Chex.

It gets stranger. As far as I can tell, everyone likes party mix, but no one likes every single ingredient in the party mix. My sister joins me on my anti-wheat Chex crusade. My dad eats the wheat Chex but doesn’t like most of the nuts and won’t touch pretzels. Even my mom, who makes the stuff and is a big proponent of not wasting any of it, never sets aside an empty bowl. Everything in the party mix is liked by somebody, but not everything is liked by everybody.

I feel like I improved my outlook on life when I started thinking of it in those terms. I could campaign to have wheat Chex removed from the party mix recipe forever, but… other people like them, and why is my opinion any more valid than theirs? I feel like a lot of times, when people complain, they’re overlooking a simple fact: What you’re complaining about isn’t for you. You’re not the audience, at least not all of it. Some group of people requires or enjoys this thing you hate so much. To presume that your vision of what things should be is the only proper one is just that: Presumptuous.

Take tutorials in video games. A lot of veteran game players hate tutorials with a fiery passion — “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, or can easily figure it out. Why do I have to sit here and listen to the game talk down to me?” But the simple fact is that these veteran players are not the exclusive audience for games. Someone is playing these games for the first time, and they probably appreciate some direction on what to do and how. I needed tutorials when I was young, and I’m not going to begrudge the current generation theirs just because I no longer do. To assume that the only audience that matters is the one I currently belong to, and everyone else should just suck it up… well, that seems self-centered and self-destructive to me.

You also get this kind of thing in baseball, where old-school fans rail against interleague or the designated hitter. “Baseball wasn’t like this when I was a kid, and we liked it just fine. Why does MLB persist with these things I don’t like?” Well, because someone does. Baseball serves more than one master — it isn’t and shouldn’t be the exclusive province of people who’ve been watching the game for thirty years. (Nor is it or should it be the province of people who watch one game a week, or only watch the playoffs, or don’t watch at all but play fantasy, or…)

As I grow older, this kind of attitude grates more and more. Generalizing wildly from your own experience — assuming you’re the baseline and any outliers are just deviants — is the height of arrogance. (My distaste for politics may have its root in this revelation.) I feel like I’ve become a better, more understanding person once I realized that and stopped judging people just because they weren’t approaching situations from the exact same angle I was.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have some party mix. Want my wheat Chex?

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