Andrée Seu Peterson: Leggo my scruples

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Andrée Seu Peterson is up next with thoughts on everyday integrity. This is from her book of columns titled, Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me.

ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTARY: It wasn’t a likely place for temptation, and she wasn’t a likely temptress. I have a cousin who needs a 12-Step program to stay away from Bloomingdale’s, but that’s never been one of my besetting sins.

I had made my pick-up at “The Wall” and ridden a half-dozen times up and down the escalator with a 2-year-old, thus fulfilling the two objectives I’d set out with. I had made it through the mall without coveting my neighbor’s wealth, or coveting my neighbor’s spouse, and, the commandments intact, we were heading for the exit.

I saw her from the corner of my eye and sensed that my election was sure. Clutching a clipboard, she closed in. “Just 10 minutes of your time,” she said. And in an exercise of that terrible freedom that is man’s, which philosophers analyze and psychologists trace to early childhood conflicts, but which to the rest of us feels like a flip of the coin, suddenly I followed her.

Into the bowels of the three-story Behemoth. A sterile cubicle, a table between us. A few screening questions about microwaves and such, to ascertain my middle-classness, and the first task was revealed: to indicate which of a rapid-fire litany of breakfast offerings I’d seen advertised. I was in trouble. Her pencil hovered impatiently over the paper.

“I don’t watch much TV,” I tried to make a virtue of ignorance.

“That’s ok.” She was undaunted, not believing the abysmal reality of my condition.

Name after name raced by: “Aunt Jemima’s Microwave Pancakes,” “Kellogg’s Common Sense Oat Bran Waffles,” “Swanson’s Great Starts Budget Breakfast,” “Downyflake French Toast.”

People who know great things don’t need to be ashamed when they don’t know trivia; in fact, it is construed as greater glory to them to be above the fray. But when you don’t know the great books, or nursing, or American League batting averages, an interview by a breakfast food representative can be a moment of deep personal trauma. I waffled.

“The reasons that would cause you to buy an Eggo Blueberry Waffle,” she droned.

Uh-oh. We were entering the murky realm of causality. I decided not to share my private, perennial debate as to whether motivation is single or multiple.

“Makes me feel like I’m doing something special for myself” was the next category, the choices being (1) highly probable; (2) probable; (3) good; (4) fair; (5) fairly improbable; (6) highly improbable.

I don’t know about other people but I always get bogged down somewhere between “fairly improbable” and “highly improbable,” my emotions, apparently, not capable of as fine gradations as those of the test crafters. Moreover, the choices didn’t fit somehow. “I don’t know,” I mumbled. “Most people stick to the middle when they’re not sure,” she intoned flatly.

“Look, you’re busy and I’m busy,” I said. “How about we circle the middle one all the way down page 3?” My accomplice complied unblinkingly, preferring the unconvincing to the unfinished.

I picked up my cassettes and my son, and as I rose to leave, I realized that I was capable of anything.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.


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