Turnips at Happy Hour

Ever since Bette and I have lived here at Holladay Park Plaza, we have attended the 4:00 Happy Hour in the Club Room. The good people in Dining Services set us up with wine and beer glasses,  a bowl of potato chips, and some napkins. We bring everything else.

turnip 1I have been watching how things are done at Happy Hour and adapting myself to what I think of as “local practice,” even though there is a modest range of different approaches to the experience that are taken by different residents.  I’ve been doing that for a year and a half now.  The illustration is “a happy hour,” not “our happy hour.”

Today, as Bette and I were coming back from a shopping trip, I found myself wondering whether I should take a turnip out of our fridge and eat some slices from it at Happy Hour along with my beer. [1]

When I caught myself in the middle of this thought, I started to chuckle because it reminded me very strongly of Abraham Maslow. Maslow is famous for his hierarchy of values in the same way that Lord Acton is famous for saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” [2]  And by “in the same way,” I mean that nine out of ten references to Maslow are about the hierarchy (just guessing) and nine out of ten references to Lord Acton refer to that one single quotation (I’ve actually done some checking on that one).

Maslow invented a hierarchy of values that works mostly like this. We are concerned with the rudiments of survival first. A safe place to be and food and shelter and so on. [3] Then we are interested in being part of a group. And then in distinguishing ourselves from the group. And finally in what he called “self-actualization” and what the Army’s marketing department calls “Being all you can be.”

Happy Hour is about the penultimate and antepenultimate stages. [4] When I got here I was careful to learn what I could about the local culture. What does one do? When you have been here awhile—when you have been anywhere awhile—you learn that there is a range of expected and acceptable behavior but there are still things that one does not do.

I know those things now.

And I was sure that I knew those things when I caught myself thinking about how cool it turnip 2would be to take a turnip with me down to Happy Hour and eat it along with the potato chips. And beer, of course. It’s so hard to find a merlot that goes well with turnips and potato chips. “Well,” I said, “If you are wondering about the turnip, you have definitely moved across the border from “how do I become a part of this group” to “what other things can I do and still be a part of the group.” I have moved from the stage Davies used to call “being a part” and over to the stage he called “being apart.” He liked to play with words as much as I do.  That is one of the major reasons I chose the University of Oregon for my doctoral work.

I’m done with the turnips and the Happy Hour now, but I would like to speculate just a little on why that order of stages works so well. This is a more personal speculation, but if it makes sense to me when I read it, I might begin applying it more broadly.

When I am doing all the things the group expects/allows me to do and I receive their acceptance as my reward, is it me—my self as I know myself to be—or is it just the conforming self I am offering to them? In a collective culture, that is a hard question to place and maybe even a hard one to imagine. In an individualistic culture like ours, it is almost inevitable. Does my continued acceptance by the group require continued uniformity with the group, or will I be accepted when I diverge from the group as well.

That question is right on the border between “being a part” and “being apart.” The ideal for a person in an individualistic culture is to do the things that define him—that set him apart from others—and at the same time, to be accepted as part of the group. Mostly, I think, there is a balance there to be struck. If your need for acceptance by the group is crucial, it would be better to err on the side of conformity. If your need for differentiation is crucial, maybe erring on the side of risky behavior is a good thing to do. [5]

Theoretically, every good balance is as good as every other good balance. The right balance depends entirely on the character of the culture, the nature of the group, and your own personal needs.

[1] It’s really not as weird as it sounds. I like turnips, which is why I have several in the fridge. They take to salt nicely which takes to beer nicely and it isn’t at all a bad snack to alternate with the potato chips. Really, the only reason not to do it would be that people just don’t do things like that.
[2] And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is famous for rhyming “forehead” and “horrid.” Well, that’s not really what he is famous for, but that is his rhyme and he has every reason to be proud of it.
[3] Maslow also has a concern for “safety” which he places after that, but my grad school mentor, Jim Davies, objected (see Davies, Human Nature in Politics: The Dynamics of Political Behavior).
[4] Or, if you really must, the next to last and the next to next to last stages.
[5] In the same way, if you are indispensable to the group, you have a lot more leeway to push on that boundary than if you are marginal to it.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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