The other day I was halving cherry tomatoes for a salad when I noticed how mealy and soft they were. That’s odd, I thought.
I am part of the infinitesimally small minority that keeps tomatoes in the refrigerator instead of on the counter. Most people find this habit very bizarre, but I hate the squishiness of an overripe tomato.
At this critical juncture, my eyes happened to fall on the package from the offending tomatoes. The words Do Not Refrigerate jumped off the yellow background.
I remembered suddenly that I had found them on the counter when I was collecting my salad ingredients.
On the counter.
I had followed the instructions on the package. I had followed them even though they went against both habit and inclination. This was surely a reflection not only on Western culture, but on my character! Are we that conditioned to obedience that we follow commands, even when they are written on produce?
When I was in college I took at least two or three psych courses, so I know enough to be wary of the intricacies of the human mind. One study in particular, by Stanley Milgram, made an intense impression on me. In a brutal oversimplification, people of perceived authority ordered participants to administer (what they believed to be) shocks of increasing voltage to complete strangers. Most of them continued to do it, even when the subject was clearly in extreme pain.
Could I be one of those people? Would I willingly shock another human being if the order were written on, say, a bag of pre-washed baby spinach? I mean, I grant you I have sometimes wished that my car came equipped with a rocket launcher, but I would use that only of my own free will, not when ordered.
How could this happen? In my family I’m known for not listening to what anyone says. Yet I had followed these instructions to the complete detriment of my self-image…and my salad.
Scarier still is that an everyday task can turn into an intense self-assessment or an internal philosophical debate.
This is what it’s like to be inside my brain. It’s not pretty.