Ruminations: Salsa


The condiment, not the dance. I read recently that salsa is more popular than ketchup. Or catsup, if you prefer. And I immediately became curious about what kind of salsa.

Ketchup tastes like ketchup. There may be subtle differences between recipes, but if you get too creative, it ceases to be ketchup.

Salsa, on the other hand, has infinite variety. There are varying degrees of spiciness and thickness. Different salsas might highlight the flavors of different peppers. There’s salsa verde, which traditionally doesn’t include tomatoes. And there’s pebre, a garlic-based concoction that’s the most popular salsa in Chile. And mango salsa. And black bean salsa. And pico de gallo.

Even if we both love salsa, we may have completely different favorites. Our flavor preferences might be totally distinct from one another, and yet we can both say that we love salsa.

The challenge is that when you tell me you love salsa, I’m likely to imagine that you value the same things about salsa that I do. I might give you a jar of my favorite salsa as a gift, and you might hate it!

When we want to convey a sense of belonging, it’s natural to look for things we have in common with other people. A lot of times, we try to ask the right questions when we meet someone new, in order to find what makes us similar. Sometimes we discover something that resonates with us, but sometimes our efforts backfire.

A lot of our innocent questions run the risk of setting us apart rather than uniting us. Where do you work? Where did you go to school? What’s your favorite restaurant? What neighborhood do you live in?

There are some assumptions underneath our questions that may be uncomfortable for someone who is in between jobs (or has a job they think will be seen as “less respectable”), or didn’t graduate high school, or can’t afford to eat at expensive restaurants. Even Where did you get those shoes? can feel off-putting for some people.

So, I’ve started asking different kinds of questions. Questions that don’t immediately draw a comparison with my own preferences and social location. Things like What are you passionate about? Or What brings you joy? And then I do my best to listen with curiosity rather than judgment.

If I’m attending an event or a worship service, instead of asking How did you like it? I might ask, What are you taking away from this experience? And maybe I could share what I’m taking away from the experience, too. Somehow, with questions like that, we could both be taking away completely different messages, and it doesn’t feel like either of us is wrong.

We can love entirely different salsas, and both of us still belong. We could have a whole community of people fascinated by one another’s favorite salsas without having to agree on the perfect condiment.

What do you suppose your questions assume? And how might we ask questions that communicate welcome and belonging, no matter how people might answer?