Hope for Harmony

by Jeff Deck | 11/5/01 6:00am

These are troubled times, it's true. Our ideas and preconceptions are constantly challenged; our prejudices are being dragged out into the unforgiving light of truth. With this in mind, we should recognize the importance of not merely tolerating those who are different from us, but accepting them completely and loving them as we would our brothers and sisters. However dissimilar from ourselves these people may seem on the outside, they are just as capable of decency and worthy of respect on the inside as we are.

I am referring, of course, to those with dining hall preferences different from our own. You've run afoul of the problems that can be caused by this, I'm sure. Let's say you decide to have dinner with a friend one night, a person you think is perfectly normal and sane but who you have not yet dined with. You and the friend convene in Thayer; both you and the friend are all a-smiling, without a worldly care -- until you head in the direction of Food Court, and your friend towards Homeplate.

Oh oh! Now begins the battle of wills. Preferences are half-heartedly stated, each contester using the powerful weapon of feigned indifference: "Oh, it doesn't matter where we eat, anyway. I don't care, I'll go with whatever. No, really. (You toad.)" In the end, whoever wins cannot truly be called the victor, because the loser is burning with resentment underneath his or her seemingly placid surface.

How can this kind of ugly conflict be avoided? Well, as is usually the case, peace begins with understanding. You must make an effort to understand your distant-cousin DDS patrons. You must attempt to grasp their philosophies, however alien they may seem to you. For example, I waver between being a Food Court person and a Hop person. Usually I eat at the Hop for lunch and have dinner at Food Court. This straddling of cultures allows me to understand two vastly different peoples, and it has really broadened my worldview in general.

Now I reach out to those who are radically different from me. I used to regard Collis Caf frequenters as wholly incomprehensible people, but over time I have been afforded the opportunity to study this folk and their curious ways. It's still true that a relationship between a Collis person and me would never work out, but at least I have a deeper understanding now of their unique, often unexpectedly robust society. Or the people of Novack -- what a comparatively young but advanced civilization! I have been making an effort lately to relate to them better, and I should tell you that it has been an enriching experience all the way.

I realize that it is easy for me to sling about rhetoric on this issue. You are probably grumbling to yourself at this moment about the difficulties that would come with trying to relate to other dining hall peoples. I just want you to know that I'm aware of the arduous nature of such a task. It will be a hard thing. You might have a deep mistrust of anyone associated with the Hop after going through a run of flat soda days. Or you might admit to a profound ignorance as to why anyone would go to the Lone Pine Tavern at all. I can only tell you to take comfort in the fact that these prejudices were learned and are not rooted within your psyche. You can overcome them.

Once you free your mind to understand dining hall societies different from your own, you will be able to see ways to connect with them harmoniously through compromises and mutual concessions. My friend Robin and I were very nearly the victims of the kind of disaster that I detailed in the beginning of this column; she is a staunch Homeplate client, while I veer to F.C. whenever in the vicinity of Thayer. But we've worked out a satisfactory arrangement, and so we obtain food from our preferred establishments and then bring it to the neutral zone of the tables at the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor. These tables are a no-man's-land, a comforting trench between Dining Services' Axis and Allies. We sit on a turf of our own, a territory beyond culinary squabbles. What a beautiful thing, conciliation!

So I say to you that you can make this mode of thought work for you, as well. There are ample solutions for getting rid of the dining hall strife that has pervaded our lives here at Dartmouth for so long; we must work together through the power of mutual understanding and caring to unearth these solutions. It may seem like a scandalizing step to take, but try giving a Hop person a hug. Take that Collis person who has mystified you and ask what's on his or her mind -- you might be surprised to hear concerns and dreams much like your own. Smile at a Homeplate person; see, they're not so scary after all. We all have so much to learn from each other.