Three guys walk into a bar...
Well, it was more than three and there was an equal number of women. Several outspoken Democrats, a Muslim, a couple Catholics, at least one Republican, two Jews and probably four races were represented when a group of friends would sit around the table at a popular downtown Portland bar a number of years ago. I was one of them. The makeup varied but the conversation and the beverage service remained predictable — we were a group of chums who disagreed profoundly on a handful of issues but we liked each other and we liked hoisting pints together. We were an assortment of personalities and professions, united by our shared affinity for a post-work pint, at first. But we soon discovered so many other details we had in common, much of it tied together by humor — a lot of humor and a ridiculous measure of laughter. We met regularly and were always genuinely glad to see one another. Several times, we may have solved all the problems of the world and once I think we might’ve defined the meaning of life. Whatever the case, we celebrated our similarities and were comfortable with our differences — we knew the former far outnumbered the latter.
We did all this accidentally. We never set out to prove people who disagreed with each other could still be close friends. We didn’t intend to act all adult-ish and set our several differences aside because we had hundreds of things in common. We had no idea we were creating lifelong friendships around that table. No, we were a motley group who just enjoyed the fellowship of a shared table, littered with empty glasses and a lot of laughter. It was totally organic and completely accidental.
But now we need to do it on purpose.
When we think it’s okay to send pipe bombs to someone with whom we disagree, something is seriously messed up. Obviously most of us totally get how screwed up a pipe bomb is. But maybe not so much some of the lesser ways we express displeasure. This week alone, I saw three separate videos of peaceful protesters being assaulted by counter-protesters who just got so angry they thought it was cool to hit someone. Seriously? That’s what we’ve become? We’re sure we hold the moral high ground so firmly that it’s permissible to hit someone because they’re just wrong? And for a moment, we got so angry we just couldn’t help ourselves?
I have a better idea: have a beer with them. I don’t mean go out and find a protest and invite the opposition to have a pint — although I’d admire your chutzpah if you did that. But I want you to consciously make the decision to sit down with someone you consider “one of them.” I’ve seen it happen many times — people who considered each other not worth an effort or even potential enemies discover they have some similarities after all. Some of the best friends of my life turned out to be the people with whom I disagreed the most.
I’ve been preaching the power food and drink have to bring people together for over a decade. Outside of religion or political passion, nothing unites like a shared fondness for that which sustains and nourishes us. And of everything we eat or drink, beer might just be the best at bringing us all together.
You’ll hear this theme regularly from me — it’s a message I believe is more important now than ever. In this fractured world, consider sitting down with someone who belongs to the other political party or who comes from a different religion or culture. I promise your life will be greatly enriched as a result. I’m not asking you to change your mind or alter your principles — just sit down and share a table with someone who’s different from you but might be a lot more like you than you thought. Even if you think you need to change minds or sway opinions, you should remember it’s much easier to do so over a pint than over a stream of shouted obscenities. At the least, you’ll get a good story and enjoy an excellent Oregon brew from the effort.
Do it on purpose. The power of a good craft beer and a willingness to share a table with “them” is greater than you think. •