Hummus and Six Degrees of Separation

A friend recently mentioned that a huge fraction of US residents don’t know what hummus is, much less eat it. Isn’t hummus the organic stuff you find in good topsoil? Why would you eat it? No, that is humus, not hummus. Hummus is a tasty dip for chips, crackers, or veggies, not part of the ground under your feet. But we digress.

The interesting part of my friend’s story is that he cannot think of anyone in his large circle of friends who does not know about hummus. And yet marketing surveys taken only a few years ago found that at least 80 million Americans had never heard of hummus. These are not stupid, immoral, or uneducated people; they are simply unfamiliar with a food that is easy to find in most supermarkets.

Thinking about it, it seems likely that there are many things we each take for granted that others, maybe millions of others, have not experienced. You may have heard that there are up to six degrees of separation between any two people; this represents how many person-to-person links you have to traverse to find a connection between you and any person chosen at random from elsewhere in the country (maybe even in the world). Perhaps the gap in knowledge of hummus reflects a different “degree of separation” problem; one that crops up in food tastes, economics, spiritual beliefs, politics, and any number of other aspects of life. If we ask someone about their knowledge of calculus, we may not be very surprised to hear that it is essentially zilch. But there are many things that we take for granted that might surprise us if we have the time and opportunity to listen to others.

This prompts another thought. Where and when do we have opportunity to bridge different experiences, to find common ground, to share what we know, or to hear and evaluate ideas that may be new to us? The news media are too busy spinning narratives to be of much help with information gaps. Facebook and its ilk are almost hopeless for any thoughtful discussion. And our self-sorting into organizations often works against the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds. We might be able to talk with our neighbor, relative, or co-worker, but where is the venue for interacting with someone in the next community over, much less on the other side of the country? Maybe this is like building friendships, and we need to bridge separations one person at a time. May God bless our efforts to do just that!

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