Hoosier political leader Rex Early was known to urge bipartisanship with the adage, “I’ve never seen a pancake so thin it didn’t have two sides.” The simple, accessible aphorism makes a hefty point. In order for a civil society to bind itself together, the pancake needs a front and back. The physics of the beloved breakfast food requires it.
Sure, the sides of the pancake can be a little different. In our house, one side always seems to get slightly crispy. It depends upon the chef as to whether the burnt side is turned up to warn the hungry table-mate of what’s in store – or, it can be turned down, masking the shame of the inattentive cook. Regardless, the pancake may have one side that we like better than the other, but we have to eat both if we hope to gain from its nourishment.
One wonders if the maxim about the engineering of a flapjack can be used to better inform our understanding of those in the world around us. Can we imagine that our least favorite person is really only one thing – liar, cheater or bad driver? Isn’t it more likely that they are a liar (at least in their encounter with us) but also a competent parent, a loving pet owner and dedicated daughter to an aging parent? Is it possible to consider that we might be more than one thing – sometimes two or more very different things?
Deciding to flatten a human being into just two dimensions makes it easier for us to walk on them. If someone is good and bad, we have to burn a bit of mental energy to evaluate them on balance. We must decide if the pancake is simply too burned to eat or if a bit of syrup makes it work.