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MasterChef Männistö

Last weekend a few friends came over to visit my place. (In the official register my property goes by name 'Männistö', hence the name of this post. Männistö means something like 'a place by the pines'.) Since the winter solstice the day has grown about half an hour longer, so we celebrated the turn of the year, welcoming the growing daylight with a bonfire.

I quite like the atmosphere of having my friends around. There is this shared understanding of general introversion, and a natural rhythm in the level of social activity. For a moment everyone retreats into their personal sphere, not talking but maybe reading a book, browsing the net or maybe stretching, or having a nap. And when it is time to start preparing a meal, suddenly everyone attends, there is a lively chatter and onions get chopped, recipes get read aloud and there's a smooth self-organized collective flow of work. Sometimes I feel that doing simple practical things together with other people gives an even deeper sense of togetherness than any intellectual discussion would give. But, of course, this doesn't happen automatically.

After my friends left back to the city, I realized that one aspect I like about these friends is the lack of evaluation and competition. This reminded be of a television show MasterChef Australia, which I've randomly seen as some of my customers often have a TV on. The entire format of that TV program seems to be about competition - the participants are put under a great stress, the minute details of their work is monitored and evaluated, and the meals they prepare are ranked. It always makes me feel so alien - like, why? What is the point of turning such a thing like cooking for others into a competition? Well, maybe some people like it that way, but personally I've always felt that something essential is ruined if too much attention is put on counting seconds, measuring and ranking everything. A stress-free safe environment leaves more room for being emotionally present, collaborating with the others, being free to improvise (as, if you know that an occasional mistake won't cost you losing points in a competition, there isn't such a risk, but you can just toss in some new spices or try some other variations with a recipe.) But, apparently, not all the people feel the same - to me it seems that some people like to lead their daily lives as if they were participating in a reality-TV competition, constantly judging others, measuring everything, raking themselves and others. Such an atmosphere always makes me want to retreat and to walk away.

Indeed, I feel I've walked away from so many social spheres of my life, retreating back into the safety of my semi-hermit solitude. Now, of course, one could ask if that is just another form or judging and ranking people. Like, if I know people A, B and C, and then prefer the company of B while doing my best to politely avoid the company of A and C, then isn't that because I think people B are better than A or C ? Wouldn't a real non-competitive and non-judgemental attitude mean accepting everyone equally? Let me put it this way: Imagine you have a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces apart. You know there aren't 'bad' or 'good' pieces, each piece is good just the way it is, and each piece is needed to complete the jigsaw puzzle. There is no point in ranking individual pieces as 'superior' or 'inferior'. Yet, you simply don't try to force any piece next to another - them pieces they come in different shapes, and you have to find the ones which fit neatly together. That, I think, is pretty much the way I feel about my own social life; while I think and feel that each human being has the exact same intrinsic value, I also accept that most of the people don't fit so smoothly next to my personality.

Of course, when it comes to my real life it hasn't always been that simple. I mean, there have been situations when I feel that my metaphorical jigsaw puzzle piece would fit nicely with the people I'm socializing with - but it is just my inner fears, nervousness, panic and semi-autistic personality disorder traits kicking in making behave in a way I don't feel like my true self. So, even when being in a warm accepting atmosphere, I've needed to learn a lot, to learn to drop my defences, to let go of fears, to be open and to show my true self without unnecessary anxiety. That, I think, is what MasterChef Männistö is about - not a competition where you are evaluated by your external performance, but simply an inner journey shared with others; a great adventure facing the monsters of fear and panic, finding a way around them, discovering a treasure of emotional presence where you can just enjoy the company of others without fears and competitions.

I think that since the dawn of the mankind the habit of eating together has been one of the central rituals affirming the togetherness of the group. Cooking and eating together tingles our ancient instincts, telling us that we are safe and accepted. Or, this is what I consider essential about cooking and eating. Exactly the reason why the idea of competition feels alien to me when it comes to things like cooking and dancing. (As a side note; the same goes with a strict set of man-made table-manners; a code which covers every minute detail of serving and consuming a meal so that all of your actions are constantly measures against that code. That is just another thing which makes me feel like running away as quick as I can. I prefer the atmosphere where people are casually friendly and polite because they have a warm feeling in their hearts. Then you can forget all codes and manners, just feeling free to express your inner feelings which ever way suits the situation best.) In a way, I could even say that the physical details of the outcome don't matter that much; the way your dance moves look, or the texture and taste of the meal cooked - what matters is the inner feeling, the shared atmosphere, the shared joy and warmth. Or, to take this idea even further, I suspect that when you stay connected with that inner sense of shared joy and warmth, you are less prone to mistakes and what you make turns out just good enough, or sometimes brilliant and excellent. So there is absolutely nothing to lose when preferring the shared sense of inner connectedness, joy and warmth. For me this has also been a cause and a cure to depression; once you learn that you actually aren't accepted as the person you are, it is easy to feel depressed, isolated, void and empty. But, re-learning to share a sense of non-judgemental acceptance is one of the antidotes, one of the ways out from the depression. (And, sometimes it is the moments of shared depression which can lead to moments of shared sense of acceptance and joy - but that has been the topic of some of blog posts in the previous years. I've noticed that there has been a trend towards celebrating the moments of shared joy. I like this trend.)

Oh well, but enough of philosophy =) Let's conclude this post with a recipe. It's Simmered Neep (or swede, rutabaga, aka. yellow turnip).

Pour a little water into a kettle. Like, it is enough to have the bottom of the kettle barely covered by water. Chop the neep into pieces. If you like to, you can also chop some carrot, just for extra colour. The amount and the size of the pieces is up to you to decide - like, make as much as fits into the kettle you chose. Bring the water to boil, add in the chopped neep (and the carrot), put a lid on and let it simmer - it doesn't have to boil vigorously, it is enough when there is always some steam under the lid. Let is simmer that way for 90 minutes or two hours or so. Add some salt, herbs and vegetable oil (again, the details are up to you to improvise). You can either serve it as it is, or smash the vegetables with a potato smasher. - Simple and tasty food, ideal for these cold winter days, best enjoyed together with friends and a sip of red wine.

cooking together with friends
cooking together with friends
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You mean there would never be another Nälkäkallio festival?

Ah, that is a good question! I'll answer in detail, for maybe that will further illustrate the topic of this blog post.

In the mid 1990's I was a young father. As a form on furious youth rebellion I had fought against all the expectations of my parents and the mainstream society, by starting a family of my own. I thoroughly enjoyed it, parenthood was central to my identity, and I was mostly interested in the practical details of everyday parenting - like, how to solve the daily little situations without using shaming nor any other standard form of emotional pressure to force the child to behave; instead, I wanted to find ways how to support the emotional and cognitive development of the child so that he will learn how to get along with this world and other people. My primary social sphere consisted of a handful of stay-at-home mothers living in the same block. They all were ten years older than I was, lower working class, and rather friendly people who gladly accepted me as a part of our neighbourhood group of parents helping each other.

Then, as the mainstream society was putting increasing economic pressure on me, I couldn't stay at home forever. In Finland it was a time of economic depression, there simply weren't that many job positions open. So, to do something I applied to the University, to study philosophy. That was about the only decent thing I could imagine, as what I would've really wanted to do would be just to leave behind the mainstream society retreating to live in the woods. But since I had no resources to do that, I chose the least worst option available - the University.

For me the University always was kind of a secondary stuff - my main sphere of life was still the parenting stuff at our suburban block. I met other students hoping to discuss philosophy with them - afer all, I felt that was the only thing I had common with the other students. I couldn't discuss parenting with them, I didn't yet know how to talk about my own emotional problems, so the only thing I wanted to talk about was the main subject we were studying, as - yes - I found academical philosophy rather interesting, and sometimes the informal student discussions were about as enlightening as the official lectures.

Oh well. But I was also struggling with my emotional pain, slowly trying to figure out my inner social barriers and how to deal with them. So, for a while I went to meet the other students also for the sake of trying to learn how to socialize with others. I contributed into the student activity by participating in organizing events and meetings. Some of those meetings took place in the woods, we sat by camp-fire socializing. Most of the time most of those events left me feeling empty and isolated, just confirming my belief that I don't know how to socialize. Sometimes I went to those meetings just to momentarily escape my steadily deteriorating relationship back at home.

The final phase of my student life was rather crappy one. I remember winter morning, I had woken up at 11 am, shivering from emotional pain. Downing anti-depression medicine with a sip of red wine, then cooking a pot of black coffee, using a lot of energy to contain my suicidal thoughts. And writing my BA dissertation on the side. At those times I thought that despite all the effort I put in learning to be social, did I make a single friend who would be my side when I need it the most? Someone who would care to pay a visit just to check that I didn't commit suicide just yet? Nope, I didn't make a single friend with who I could share things which matter the most to me - thoughts about parenting, and thoughts about coping with rather severe traumatic issues. I never blamed the others for me feeling lonely, as I perfectly well understood that it is just a case of me not knowing how to be friends.

So I walked away from the student life, retreating elsewhere to lick my wounds. Later on a few of the people from the University years re-surfaced in my life, and they have proven to be lasting friendships. Not that much for the sake of nostalgia, but for we all have moved on in our life and now have new things we feel like sharing (which, naturally, also includes discussing philosophy, but we are now mostly dealing with contemporary literature, instead of endlessly dwelling in the stuff we read in our student years).

At some point, maybe four years ago or so, I suddenly felt like a small student reunion. In the times of facebook that was rather easy to organize; I sent a message to everyone I had contact with, asking them to inform their contacts, so that anyone who is interested in a reunion meeting could come to the bar which used to be our regular meeting place, some fifteen years ago. That meeting took place, a handful of people turned up, and we mostly had good times remembering the most funny moments of our young student years. Later on that year it also was an official 30th year anniversary party of the University philosophy students group. Out of curiosity I also went there, talked a little with some other people and ended up having a panic attack, fleeing the place leaving behind some of my clothes as I was too panicked to gather all of my stuff - I needed to escape as soon as possible. I drove back home, feeling safe in the solitude, and happy that my student years are past and gone.

Now then, in autumn 2017 I went to a cinema together with my son and his girlfriend. (They are now about the same age I was in my student years.) They are part of my primary social sphere, people I like to see and to spend time together with. As we took our seats in the cinema, it turned out that right in front of me in the next row it was Tommi, a fellow student from the University years.

Tommi told me that he just realized that is 20 years since the Nälkäkallio meeting. It took me a few seconds to figure out what he is talking about - then I remembered that indeed, one of our student events was a bicycle trip to the woods south of Tampere. We were a bunch of people, we cycled some 15 - 20 kilometres, climbed a small rocky hillock and set up a camp-fire there, cooking food and eating together. I remember how, as we were a jolly posse of people laughing and cycling together, I had absolutely no feeling of togetherness. Despite all the good things, like cycling, cooking and eating together, I just felt that all of my energy goes into containing my depression which I didn't show to the others. So, at no point did I feel like being together with the others, all the time I felt just trapped inside the darkness of my own soul. So that I only remember a few of the people who attended that meeting, and then there were some people I don't remember who they were, for I felt like having absolutely no contact with the others. Again, that disconnectedness was not because of the others, but because of me, my inner world which I didn't know how to share with others, my inner world which was so full of emotional pain that no external impulses could get in.

While my brain was still processing these memories, I started to anticipate that maybe Tommi is about to invite me to a reunion meeting; let's gather the old posse and meet again at the Nälkäkallio! Alas, it turned out I was wrong; Tommi asked me to organize the meeting.

Again, it took me a few seconds trying to figure out why he would ask me to do something which he himself is interested in. Like, I don't even remember all the people who were there, I don't have their contact information, it would be some work trying to contact those people. Other than that, organizing a meeting is an easy thing to do - just pick a place and date, and send a message to people inviting them to come. But before I got to ask Tommi why he doesn't invite the people himself, he went on explaining that he expects me to organize a reunion meeting for I always was such a central figure in the social sphere. I simply didn't know what to answer to that, for I felt that Tommi's image of me has just a very little do with the way I experienced the social sphere myself.

Like, if it twenty years ago was so that I was one of the persons who did the work of organizing events, it doesn't mean that I enjoyed doing so, nor that I would like to do it again. The heck, even if someone else organized a Nälkäkallio reunion meeting, I wouldn't participate for in my memories that particular event was nothing so special, but just an another frustration in the long chain of my own experiences of social anxiety and failure.

So, to conclude this reply, let's utilize some good old tools of philosophical formalization. To me it seems that Tommi's question "You mean there would never be another Nälkäkallio festival?" consists of two assumptions;
Assumption 1: Erkka is not going to organize another Nälkäkallio festival
Assumption 2: If Erkka doesn't do it, no-one else will
The logical conclusion: Therefore another Nälkäkallio festival will never happen

This reasoning is logically valid. Also, the assumption 1. is correct. What comes to the assumption 2, I honestly don't know if Tommi means what he says, or if this is just a question of wording, or just another display of the constant provocation, joking and performance which was Tommi's habit some twenty years ago (I don't know if it still is, so I avoid jumping to a conclusion). Either way, if there really is something like the assumption 2, I think that quite neatly sums up some of my persistent problems with social life, the reasons why I often prefer my semi-hermit solitude.

I mean, the assumption 2. comes with the idea that there is work to be done, and other people find that work either too boring or too hard for them to do - so they get this grand idea that "Hey, let's tell Erkka to do this work!". As if I had some magical powers which would make it easier for me to do that boring or hard work? Or maybe me feeling bored or struggling with laborous work just doesn't matter? Or maybe the others just have (a false) image that "Erkka will make things happen!". I can tell you that I don't. And, certainly, I don't enjoy it when other people have such an image of me which feels almost totally alien to me. In such situations, even if I'm physically present and sharing with those other people, it feels that they don't see or hear me - they only see and hear their false image of me; and then get offended if I don't behave the way they expect me to behave because of their own false image of me. That is exactly the type of social interaction which makes me to shut up and to walk away.

That's what I expected, I won't bother you about this anymore because I think people should never be pushed. The reason why I asked you to arrange is that I'm a bit of an outsider and completely unconnected because I don't use social media. Those people are missing you and you participating would have been a major attraction.

However, your answer provided an interesting idea that might interest even readers who don't have any connection to our 1990s philosophy student group. Something that I think is the greatest fault in Finnish culture. What could it be? Let's find out!

Finnish culture lacks personal freedom in every level. Society pressurises us as do our families, friends and spouses. Most mental breakdowns in our social circles are caused by nagging wives or girlfriends.

The state controls people by poisoning our most intimate personal relationships. The parents teach their kids to fear failure because they fear the kids won't survive the competition otherwise. (The fear of failing makes you fail. I recommend the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" if you haven't already read it.) The friends and spouses try to help but if you push a fearing person you just make him fear even more. In every contact to outer social world Finns expect to find manipulation, competition or both. I talked to a guy working in employment office telling they're trying to help but people are too suspicious to cooperate. Most customers are fully dependent on benefits and fear saying anything "wrong".

Society etc. fears that otherwise we end being freeloaders but while we usually just want to be left alone, we try to minimise the abuse we're experiencing by cutting our social connections, ditching our dreams and plans and having as little to do with evil external world as possible.

We're constantly in a defensive mode. The lack of trust and more or less veiled aggression making it next to impossible to build any connection to other people. John Lennon's song Working Class Hero is a good depiction of Finnish mindset. The difference you meet in, say, Sweden, Germany, or United States is considerable. People are friendlier, more relaxed, and most of all having plans for the future. Not dreams but something they're already working on.

This isn't anything new. You can read it in 1960s sociology books, the impressions of Finnish immigrants in USA 100 years ago, and you'd probably find even earlier sources if you tried.

Out of curiosity, and for the sake of philosophical clarity, I'd like to ask that when you say like "Finnish people are X and Swedish people are more Y", do you mean

  1. 100.00% of people born and raised in Finland are X, while 0.00% of Swedish people aren't X but instead 100.00% of Swedes are Y
  2. 89.7% of Finnish people are X, while 92% of Swedish people are Y and non-X
  3. 52% of Finnish people (that counts as majority and justifies the usage of shorthand general expressions like 'Finnish culture is X') are X, only 20% of Finnish people are Y - while in Sweden 48% of people are X and 23% are Y (so it is justified to say that Swedish culture is less X and more Y than Finnish culture)
  4. 28% of Finnish people are strongly X, 30% are somewhat X, and the remaining 42% are little X, and 28% + 30% makes a majority so it is justified to say that overall the general Finnish culture is X, while in Sweden the numbers are 15%, 32% and 53%, so that they score lower on strong-X and on average are less X than the Finnish population
  5. None of the above, as there is this semi-hegelian entity called 'national culture' which affects everyone and is somewhat independent from what individual people feel, think and believe, as the sociological realm obeys its own laws and mechanics, so that we can pinpoint and discuss those nation-spirits or regional cultures in abstract, independently of how large percentage of the population actually believes or follows the traits of their national culture

I think u should use phrasing: We a little less and I little more, not everyone agrees with your statements u know :)

I wish u a fine day after


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