I learned recently that in the Vietnamese culture there is a concept called “squishing the bread.” Basically, you’re a baker who makes bread, and you notice that customers like your competing neighbor’s bread better. But instead of improving the quality of your bread, you sneak over and squish your neighbor’s bread so they’re worse than yours. And we all know that there is nothing more unpalatable than a banh mi with limp, flaccid bread.
Unfortunately, we have become a City, heck, a Nation, of bread squishers. Daily, we squish each other’s breads. We do it so naturally and so frequently we don’t even notice it. When someone first suggests an idea, is our first inclination to support it? No, we immediately, instinctively, start thinking of ways that it wouldn’t work, saying discouraging stuff like, “Huy, your ‘Insta-Whiskey, Just Add Water’ powder idea is awful,” etc.
The instinct to squish lately has been so pervasive that it has taken over concepts on which America prides itself: Rugged Individualism, risk-taking, creativity, the pioneering spirit for exploration and for thriving in challenging circumstances. Take a look at shows like American Idol and The X-Factor. We like to see failures. There’s no other reason why they would put on clips of terrible, clueless performers, except that as a nation, we have started finding joy in seeing other people put themselves out there only to get shot down and humiliated. It makes us feel better about ourselves and reconfirms our decisions to not take risks. We put others down; we savor their downfall. Some of us hate “Glee,” and all of us have come to share a passionate dislike of M. Night Shyamalan, and if his next movie is actually good (like “The Sixth Sense”), we would be disappointed.
This might not be so bad if it’s just popular culture that’s affected, but our political system has become a giant bread squishing machine. There are politicians whose main goal is to “Make Obama a one-term president.” Really? How about changing the message to “Our main goal is to create jobs and improve the economy, and while we feel President Obama has some good ideas, we fundamentally disagree on his strategies, so here are different ideas we are proposing.”
Seattle is sadly a city of Squishers. How come, for instance, as one of the most educated cities in the world, we still have one of the suckiest school districts? This makes no sense to me, until I started attending some board meetings and reading articles about education in Seattle, and realize that people are nuts. Proposals to increase funding to help immigrant/refugee students, for example, will inevitably be met with backlash along the lines of “Why are we supporting these illegals?” Reading the comment sections will give rational thinkers night terrors for weeks.
All of us are pessimists and devil’s advocates at some point, and not all ideas are worth supporting. However, “squishing the bread” implies the intent to bypass an opportunity to learn and improve or suggest a better solution, and instead engage in petty sabotage. Worse, when we become Squishers, we become the destroyers of dreams, the crushers of souls. Society would be better if we would support each other and come together, kind of like a banh mi, with its diverse ingredients combining into a delicious package, held together with crispy bread.
I will try to stop hating on “Glee.” Sure, Rachel and Kurt sometimes don’t show their teeth when they sing, making them look like toothless hamsters, but that should not detract from the fact that they are talented singers. Today, as you go about your business, think about whether you are fluffing up others and their ideas, hopes and dreams, or squishing them, and make a conscious effort to cut down on the squishing. Our world would be a much better place to live if we would all fluff our neighbors more often.