I have found learning new languages incredibly difficult. I agree with Megan that part of why I have found it so incredibly difficult is because it has always been a choice. At various stages I have taken stabs at Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, German, Italian and French. Languages are the most explicit case of where we don't have access to whole swathes of people and culture because of literacy obstacles. I think the same obstacles actually exist elsewhere. I recently wrote a guest post on a friends blog about 'Trying to Unsquiggle'. The world is full of information and flavours, but most of it is just squiggles. Whilst some see through the squiggles, most of us just ignore them and move on because we don't understand. Normally we don't have to. We haven't made a conscious choice about which bits of life will give us the most meaning and fulfilment because it requires an initial effort to unsquiggle. Unsquiggling is intimidating, and as Meg's post suggests, sometimes choice can be a bad thing leaving us less happy.
So I do think a balance has to be found between always looking for alternative choices and being content with what you have. One of the issues I have been chewing is not alternatives but whether I am conscious of the choices I have made, or the choices that have been made for me. This involves a degree of literacy. More specifically the one I have been thinking of recently is diet. Following on from 'Born to Run' in my Unogwaja Challenge process, I have been reading 'Eat & Run' by Scott Jurek. If you, like me, have been looking for a replacement hero to fill the Lance Armstrong void, Jurek may just be that man. He is ridiculously awesome. His book is a combo of a biography of his ultramarathon (>50 miles, often >100 miles) and a cook book. The book is also peppered with other books to read. Like Josh Waitzkin used his Chess Knowledge to conquer Martial Arts, Jurek left no stone unturned as he has refined his knowledge of the human body and its limits. Sometimes dipping into alternative choices isn't about switching. It is about unsquiggling enough truths to help you refine the path you are on.
Jurek is arguably one of the most hardcore athletes to have ever lived. He is also a vegan. Part of the book also details his transition to a plant based diet. It wasn't immediate. He did it slowly and pinpoints various milestone meals where the emotional obstacles fell away not because he gave something up, but because he found something more epic. I eat meat for various reasons. One of them is that biltong tastes so awesome. Another is because of the cultural side of food and the memories triggered by certain meals. I also value highly not being fussy and fitting in to what company and hosts have prepared as easily as possible. I also enjoy variety. One of my favourite things to do is to say to a waitor - 'bring me the thing you think is the best. Don't ask me any questions, I am not fussy.' I have been philosophically convinced that Factory Farming is not something I feel comfortable with. I recently watched 'Food Inc' and that bought me a few meat free days. I am a 'conspiracy-skeptic'. I don't believe we can blame the machine for the choices we make with our dollars, time and votes. Ignorance isn't an excuse. Capitalism is a ruthless mirror. The captains may have studied our emotional responses and wants and fed the vices we 'don't' like, but we can't blame anyone but ourselves for the ugly picture that presents itself when we don't make conscious choices. Food Inc is an ugly mirror. But emotional kicks fade. Other emotional kicks come to. Comfort. Company. Selective Ignorance. Energy.
Changing diet is like learning a new language. There are so many foods that aren't even in my vocabulary. I don't know what they taste like. I don't know how to prepare them. I don't even know where to buy them. At the risk of sounding stupid, I don't even know how to choose them. When I shop, everything I buy is standardised. I don't have to choose. Like becoming literate so you can understand a language, literate so you can tell between wines, literate so you know good from bad music... part of changing my diet will require literacy. I suspect there is a world of untapped flavour that will make the choice less difficult. As Megan mentioned, a language can be easier to learn when you move to a place where it is spoken. You have no choice. I didn't struggle on my month long yoga courses. Going on courses, workshops or submerging yourself in a way of life is one thing. Real life is another. Ariella has made a successful transition as she described in her guest post. I am still on the fence.
With necessary apologies to the Rider-Elephant metaphor, and recognising the irony when describing trying to increase the plants in my diet, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So my first step is to try learn who to make Scott Jurek's Vegetarian Chili. If it is as awesome as he suggests, then perhaps I can switch it for my Spaghetti Bolognaise and make one small step for Trevkind.