Those who study human behavior agreed long ago that the prejudices of the parents are passed along to the next generation. So, for example, if you hear someone using typically obnoxious language about a certain racial, ethnic, political or religious group, you can conclude that the speaker adopted that attitude from his or her parents. I’m a good example of that.
Early in their marriage, my mother discovered that my father, a true Southern gentleman, possessed a serious bias. He had been born and bred far away in Kentucky and my mother in Buffalo. When they met as adults, she soon discovered this prejudice and, as a dutiful wife, adopted his attitude. It became one of the bonds that linked them, a common contempt.
Bonds can be either positive or negative; whether it is affection and respect or scorn and loathing, if there is agreement, a policy is adopted and any children eventually are exposed to those beliefs.
This is how I learned to disdain cucumbers. I didn’t hate cucumbers, because I had never even seen or tasted a cucumber. But for years I consistently heard derogatory references about them. As a result, I followed the family tradition and became intolerant toward them, despite having no personal experience with them.
I know that doesn’t sound logical, but that is the way it is with discrimination. It is a learned response, based on emotion, not logic. I was bigoted, an anti-cukeite. Pickles were fine, but cucumbers were taboo.
I am comfortable admitting that narrow-minded behavior now only because I have changed, converted years ago by my wife, Lynn. She began adding cucumbers to our salads and noticed that I was avoiding them, picking out the slices while enjoying the rest of the salad. She questioned that aberrant behavior, and I disclosed my lifelong prejudice. Through her dedicated efforts I was educated and eventually reformed.
Whether my parents were shocked by the news of my conversion, I cannot say. But I do remember one instance when they saw our son, Jeff, in his high chair, snacking on cucumber slices. They expressed shock and chagrin at the sight of their first grandchild eating what they had always considered to be a forbidden vegetable. They never made an issue of cucumbers in our house, but they never ate any, either.
Meanwhile, I discovered that the cucumber, while essentially bland, is a very engaging veggie. Many vegetables can brag about the lengthy list of vitamins they contain, but none has a longer list than the cucumber. I located citations claiming that food researchers had found all of these elements in a cucumber: vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folic acid, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Wow! After writing that sentence I put the computer to sleep, got in the car and drove out to the supermarket. I immediately found an array of cylindrical green items with smooth skin. From a distance they appeared to be cucumbers, but under closer examination they turned out to be zucchini, another vegetable with a laudable pedigree. I chose some and moved on, finding cucumbers nearby.
They were heaped in a mound on the counter, and the store had cleverly bathed them with water, so they were splashed with droplets and looked irresistible. I picked some of those, too, and returned to the office, where I began munching a cuke as I typed. I soon found myself energized, I think. Could it have been my imagination? I suppose so, but, among those who know cucumbers best, they are well-known for providing an excellent, low-calorie sense of stimulation. They are recommended instead of coffee, caffeinated soda or energy bars. They are also endorsed as munchies, ideal for consumption in the late afternoon or evening.
After my cucumber-free early years, I’ve become a supporter of cucumbers, which are also handy for maintenance tasks such as polishing mirrors or reducing puffiness under the eyes.
More important, however, is the enduring lesson I learned about discrimination and how it is passed from generation to generation. Years ago I observed my son applying mustard to his hamburger rather than ketchup, which was the approved condiment in our family. I warned him, explaining that mustard was approved for hot dogs but not hamburgers. He ignored my rebuke and asserted his independence, saying, “I like mine with mustard.” That was an enlightening moment for me; I’ve been cautious ever since about propagating my biases, and I’ve also been enjoying mustard on my hamburgers.
Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.
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