I miss the Salt Lick BBQ beef ribs. I like the grab-and-go pork ribs. But I’m not sure about the chicken ribs, even if they are free-range. 1800 years ago, the Prime Minister Cao Cao (曹操) was also unsure about those during a war. At the dinner time, a solder came in and asked: “Please name the safe word for the night guard”. The Prime Minister was eating chicken and replied: “chicken ribs” (鸡肋). The soldiers were puzzled. Probably you are as well. Let me explain.
The safe word reflected the Prime Minister’s top-of-mind. On one hand, the chicken ribs were boring to eat (食之无味). On the other, he felt pity to waste those (弃之可惜). Just like his military conquest at that time. The warfare got into a stalemate, and the opponent disrupted his supply chain. Although the military victory seemed beyond his reach, the Prime Minister wasn’t ready to retreat either. You may read the full story in Chinese here.
Since then, “Chicken ribs” became a popular saying in Chinese. If you look around, there are chicken ribs everywhere. Literally, shall I eat two-days-old leftover, or throw it away. More seriously, shall I join my friend’s birthday party in person, or continue to isolate in the multiyear long pandemic. And for Seahawks fan, shall we keep the defense captain, or save millions against the salary cap.
Chicken ribs are tough choices. But they are different from “to be or not to be”, because they are not life and death decisions. There might be drama, but life goes on whether we choose to eat those up or cast those away. Chicken ribs are tough choices. But they are different from “damn if you do damn if you don’t”, because one or both choices may turn out just fine. If you find a matching English idiom describing “chicken ribs”, I’d love to know.
Chicken ribs are tough choices, exactly because of the same reasons above. We may procrastinate because they are not life and death decisions. Analysis paralysis is more likely to occur because both choices may seem equally fine. And we may swing back and forth between the choices. For example, I told my friend that I’d skip the party, only to change my mind on his birthday. My friends had to rearrange logistic to accommodate me at the last minute.
Sometimes, it takes a crisis to break the spell of Chicken ribs. The Great Resignation is an outcome of millions of dissatisfied workers decided to quit their jobs, after the pandemic shed new light on their work and life. Similarly, the Chinese minimalist lifestyle Tang ping (躺平) started during the pandemic as well.
How to proactively evaluate Chicken ribs? First, understand ourselves better. Instead of being triggered by the pandemic, we may periodically reflect on our work and life, our value and belief, and our relationships with others. Second, communicate our thought process with families, friends and colleagues. Both choices are fine: to eat chicken ribs or to cast those away. However, our decision will likely impact people around us. And we may decide differently from each other. Lack of communication may cause rifts among us. Last but not least, appreciate the opportunity. Having chicken ribs to start with is a good thing. And after all, those are just chicken ribs.