During a break in an executive development workshop I was leading this week, the meeting host provided us with the opportunity to sample some of the ice cream that the company produces. The most exotic flavor – which he also said was by far their most popular – was “Sweet Purple Yam” (also known as “Ube”).
My first thought was, “VEGETABLE ice cream?!? That is just WRONG.” But, given that I was teaching a session on Growth Mindset, it seemed bad form not to step out of my comfort zone and try this crazy-sounding, dark lavender ice cream. As I tasted the first spoonful, expecting a flavor something along the lines of V-8 Juice, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it did NOT taste like a vegetable. It actually didn’t taste anything I recognized at all. And yet, I immediately had the sense that it reminded me of…something. But I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. As I tasted a second spoonful, intensely focused on the flavor to see if I could discern what was familiar, I realized that it reminded me of the butter cookies that my grandmother used to make at Christmas, nearly 40 years ago. However, much to my surprise, the woman standing next to me remarked a few moments later that it tasted like coconut. Five minutes later, someone else also commented on the ice cream’s taste, saying that the flavor was like chestnut. Or maybe pistachio.
How can a single ice cream flavor taste like butter cookies, coconut, and chestnut/pistachio?
This can happen because our brains are specifically designed to make sense of a world…that often makes no sense whatsoever. To try to convert the unknown into the known. To take new stimuli and find a way to fit them into the version of the world that we’ve constructed.
In addition to being highly amusing, the experience was also a powerful reminder of the fact that different people can be presented with precisely the same experiences – and still draw vastly different conclusions from them. Was one of our flavor interpretations more “right” than the others? Or were they all equally valid? And what happens when we apply this same line of questioning to more substantial issues? Is it possible for different people to hear/see/experience an identical set of inputs/stimuli…and nevertheless interpret them in different – and equally valid – ways?
Is there always a single “truth”? If not, does that necessarily change our definition - or at least our understanding of - the word "truth"?
I’m pretty sure I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s worth considering the questions. And, for the record, if you ever get a chance to try Sweet Purple Yam ice cream, give it a shot. And let me know what you think it tastes like.
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