Starting at end of table closest to camera and going left to right: Paula, Kelly, Krista, (empty seat Tory, who took the picture), Kavita, Alan
In May of 2011 I got into a Facebook discussion about politics. Well, I’ve gotten into several discussions before and since, but this one was significant. It was on the Facebook wall of a high school classmate, Alan. Another friend of his chimed in, and we were pretty much on opposite sides of the issue, but here’s the catch—the exchange was respectful and thoughtful. Kind of a rarity in Facebook politics. The friend’s name is Kelly, and he sent me a message saying that he wanted to friend me, and I said sure, and many respectful disagreements, “happy birthdays,” and little thumbs up on pictures ensued.
Several months or perhaps a year later, we three—one conservative, one liberal, and one left-of-center moderate—decided to get together at a local Mexican restaurant and have a civilized political discussion over food and a few beers. Hearkening back to the gathering between Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Sergeant James Crowley (Google if you need a refresher) in 2009, we called this gathering the “Beer Summit.” We had a great time; we talked about politics and our families and jobs, laughed a lot—all good.
I don’t know why it took so long, but we didn’t meet again for years. Then we saw our country being viciously torn apart over politics this past political season. Alan and I were adamantly anti-Trump, and while I didn’t adore Hillary Clinton, I was okay voting for her, while Alan was pretty disgusted that she seemed to be his only viable option. Kelly felt the same way about Trump. As he has often said, there were 17 Republican candidates, and Trump was his 17th choice, but he was voting for him.
Last summer, it was time for Beer Summit 2.0. We met at the same restaurant. Again, we had a lively time, but at the end, we agreed that it was too unfocused and there were just too many issues. Still, it felt healthy to be sharing ideas and engaging in respectful discourse about these issues.
And here we are today. We live in a country so divided. Family relationships have been splintered over politics, holiday dinners spoiled, friendships severed. I have seen friends post to their Facebook walls that they want their other “friends” who voted “wrong” to unfriend them. It takes a lot for me to unfriend someone, but I did hide the posts of a woman I once worked with because her updates were so venomous that they were sullying every memory I had of her.
It had clearly become time to move the Beer Summit 3.0 beyond the three of us. Last Saturday I invited the original other two participants and two more friends, one conservative and one liberal, to join us. I also included my husband, who often refers to himself as a “recovering Republican.” The new conservative participant, Krista, was a student who competed on my speech team in my very early years of teaching. She is now a radio talk show host and a newspaper columnist. I hadn’t seen her in 25 years, but through her Facebook posts and writings, I knew her to be thoughtful—a commentator rather than a provocateur. Plus, it was just a real treat to see her again. The new liberal, Kavita, I had met once years before at a friend’s birthday party. We hit it off, friended each other on Facebook, and then somehow never got together again. What I loved about her Facebook posts was her tendency to make very critical remarks about Trump voters and then kind of take herself to task about learning to be more open.
What I did not remember and found out at our gathering was that Kavita and Kelly had gotten into a heated exchange on one of my posts several months earlier. You know, one of those more typical exchanges people get into when discussing politics online with someone they’ve never met face-to-face.
This time we met at my house. I made a soup that has one broth but allows people to choose from a variety of ingredients to put in the broth—a symbol of shared values but different beliefs about how best to serve those values. Kavita is from India and shared a taste of her home country, samosas, which were new to me and delicious!
We had originally set the reliability of news sources and foreign policy as our topics, but the best laid plans of mice and men and all, the conversation followed its own organic path. We talked about a lot of things.
Three people there had dealt with infertility. Two had adopted children and one had gone the invitro route. This led to discussion about reproductive choice, and with one Catholic and one woman who had gone through invitro, obviously there were intense differences of opinion, but encompassing that was compassion, having shared the pain of infertility.
We talked about immigration, and while there was no consensus about how best to manage immigration, there was a communal belief that our country is worth sharing and that we should, indeed, share it.
I had set the evening to last three hours, but it flowed effortlessly for four. I think everyone genuinely liked each other. It would have been hard not to. Each member was engaging and funny and kind. At the end, there was no singing Kumbaya, but as we went around the table and summed up the experience, the recognition of each other’s humanity and decency was a recurring theme. We are already talking about meeting again.
I asked one thing in return for the meal. I asked each participant to write a reflection that I could post here, in my blog. I will post this when I have everyone’s contribution.
Krista talked about it on the radio the following Monday, and her co-host just couldn’t seem to get the value of pure discussion. He wanted a debate. He wanted winners and losers. Krista stood firm on the value of civil discussion, the exchange of ideas. Alan spoke on the evening of the dinner about a professor in a class he’s currently taking who said that discussion is the only true way we will ever find peace.
My own part of this is two pages, single-spaced, and the added reflections will make for a very long blog post. I hope you’ll stick with it and read all of it. Then I hope you’ll consider doing the same thing. Invite friends with very different views to break bread together, wade in troubled waters together, but always remember to help each other back to solid, common ground. I truly believe we can save our country one shared meal at a time.
First of all, thank you, Paula and Tory, for opening up your home for this opportunity to share not only a great meal, but also allowing us in and inviting us to share our thoughts and beliefs both with those with whom we may agree and those with whom we may disagree. That idea—opening up your home—is at the heart of this reflection.
I am not a Catholic, anymore. I’m not even sure that I should call myself a Christian. I’m just a guy who believes what I believe, morally, spiritually and politically. Sometimes those beliefs fit into a more traditional and accepted framework. A lot of the time they do not.
I do know this, though, the idea of “communion” is common in both Catholicism, and in the wider Christian world. I suspect that the idea of coming together, gathering in communion, with our fellow human beings is at the very center of most religious beliefs.
As a Catholic, “communion” usually just meant standing in line to get a little, flat wafer of bread. I’m not sure that I ever placed much emphasis on the “gathering” part of the word. I should have. Maybe we all should.
The first definition of the word communion that pops up in Google is: “The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.”
Webster’s definition number three is: “Intimate fellowship or rapport.”
Both of those of those definitions describe our Beer Summit experience: literally meeting in a friend’s home, in a communal way, to break bread together and engage in “fellowship and rapport.”
This has been a fundamental, and essential, human activity, since the dawn of humankind. It is also something that is fundamentally and essentially missing from our modern, digital, social-media, echo chamber, zero-sum world, and, unfortunately, in our political discourse and political leadership.
The intent was not to change minds, convince, to score points or to “win” anything.
The idea was to begin to see, to know, to listen and to hear another human being, and, hopefully, to recognize and to acknowledge in that other person that which is so much a part of ourselves: the need to understand the world around us, and our desire to live our lives in a moral way, whether or not that understanding reflects our own.
We are not called upon to agree on everything. We don’t have to agree on everything. It’s much healthier for our nation if we don’t agree on everything. Our political system is not built upon the idea of total, absolute, agreement. Our system is designed for compromise and consensus, for reasoned debate among people who may disagree, yet, have at their core a shared concern for the greater good, and a shared love of country and community, and through that common core set of love and concern, they are able to work through their differences—without thoughts of “winning and losing”—to see that the greatest good is achieved for the greatest number. Somehow we have lost this thread, in our national dialogue.
It was only six people eating soup and breaking bread, but it’s a start, a really good start. It was a really good start at returning us to the way things are supposed to work. A really good start at refuting and rejecting the way things are working…or, more accurately, NOT working, in our nation, and in our world, today.
What if this happened in every neighborhood, in every community?
They’ve all gotta start somewhere.
Why not with a Beer Summit?
Let me thank you and Tory again for hosting such a lovely and much needed gathering. It takes those who truly put their words into actions, so few of us, to heal from such a divided states of America.
I want to give you my insights (following a week of careful percolation) in the following areas:
First, the human interactions between the 6 of us. They were simply the most healing, honest and loving displays of humanity following a devastating election. In that room of almost 6 strangers, I felt a level of comfort and closeness, I have not felt in years. Partly I would imagine due to the relative anonymity between us. But also due to the bond of trust so to speak in allowing me to share some truths about myself, my experiences and my beliefs, that will surprise many in my inner circle. I told my 13 year old that night, that if there was an emergency, I would call on any of the people I met that night, to come and pick her up. Such was the innate decency within each and every one of you that I saw that night.
Second, on humanizing the non HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] voters. I have focused long and hard on “forgiving” the Trump voters, those who “voted their conscience” and every variation of a voter who did not vote for HRC, knowing that she was the only viable choice. As a pragmatist, we are Americans first. However, my anger towards the non HRC voters, most notably the Trump voters, is an open wound, whose scab continues to fall off. More so as an immigrant, on whose tribe the White House has declared an unrelenting and cruel war. Putting a face, a family on these voters and the rationale that led to each of their choices provided some needed healing.
Finally, as I reflected on the discussion from our evening, I have more questions, that take me back to a sense of despair again. Less painful this time around. While every one of the conservatives I met that evening are good, decent, kind people, given the election again today, I wonder of that they would cast the same vote again. Knowing what they know now about President Trump, if the election were to be held today between the two contenders (HRC vs. Trump), I don’t know if they would vote differently. I say this, not out of any sense of clairvoyance but because of what I took way from our discussion. Let me first acknowledge, what I did also feel was sincere support for myself as an immigrant, as a woman and as a liberal from every one of you. But I also heard a sincere support for some Republican policies under President Trump. Unconstitutional immigrant enforcement (which is what his policy is before it got denied by the federal courts); repealing ACA; depriving women of their reproductive rights; restoring/recognizing America as a Christian nation. And as “hot” as Speaker Ryan is, he does not support equal rights for all Americans. And not to be outdone, our liberals got caught by in overwrought indignation about pointless moral foibles.
Until the next time…J
These are divisive times. I ask myself what I can do to bridge understanding. I’ve decided it’s not enough to point out the excesses of both sides or to urge people to listen to both sides of an argument before making a decision. I do both of these on air daily as a talk show host yet feel I should do more. Paula Reed has created a remedy for division which should be replicated. She held a “Beer Summit” for six guests with different political beliefs and backgrounds. Rather than avoid tough subjects, we deliberately discussed politics and religion. It was wonderful—great food, nice people, and good discussion. When I looked at the clock on the way home I realized we’d been together talking, laughing and disagreeing for over four hours. Paula Reed’s Beer Summit recipe can and should be replicated: invite a group of thoughtful individuals with differing opinions, add beer, wine, and great food (plus chocolate cake), and stir with respect.
Sharing perspectives on the state of affairs in this country was invigorating and engaging. I went into this with the intention of keeping an open mind and to trying to find ways to reach across the divides and understand other points of view. While we certainly made some progress to that end, I think it will take further effort on my part to understand some points of view more deeply. In the end though, there are points of view that, while I might fully understand them, will not in the end change my own point of view. Modify that point of view? Sure. My arguments will become more sound and will reach into the evidence presented by those I tend to disagree with. Good social and political policy comes from this kind of engagement and in my mind is exactly why we are having such issues in our political discourse these days. Factions have become locked in their own echo chambers of confirmation bias on the internet, and especially in Washington. Until we get back to the days of reaching across the aisle and having a drink with our political opponents, progress will be slow and plodding at best with much sound and fury signifying very little.
Our political systems could do with a bit of what I think we all experienced at Beer Summit 3. Sitting down with people that don’t share your political or even religious beliefs, and truly engaging with their humanity, it is mind broadening and healing, restoring your basic faith in humanity. I was able to see that we aren’t really all that far apart and many of our differences, while they are very real and can certainly cause conflict, are based on many values we all hold in common. In most ways I think we could agree on what living a good life in the world looks like, though we might disagree on the fundamental internal motivations that produce it.
While we had a diverse mix of points of view from political, social, economic, and religious perspectives, there are obviously many others to try and understand. This was a great beginning to a very complex conversation. I very much enjoyed and valued the perspectives that everybody brought to the table. As I get older, I find I want to understand at a deeper level that cannot happen without conversation and actually engaging people with different points of view. I encourage all who found this little party of ours inspirational to try it yourselves. Bring together thoughtful people you respect but disagree with and try it out. Let’s bring back the “salon” of days past where dinner parties were organized specifically to engage with people of differing opinions. This may be one of the ways we begin to climb out of the political morass we find ourselves in and discover the humanity in each other so that we can work together to find compromise and common purpose for the good of us all.
It’s been said that sharing food is the most intimate act you can perform with your clothes on.
When Paula suggested Beer Summit III be at her and Tory’s home, I was pleasantly surprised. First, that we were having another beer summit so soon after the 2016 election. Second, that we were having another beer summit at all, given the division that had overtaken the country during and since the election. That Paula added to our original Beer Summit group of one liberal (herself), one left-leaning moderate (Alan), and one conservative (myself) by inviting one right-leaning moderate (Tory), another liberal (Kavita) and another conservative (Krista) made it all the more imperative that I not miss this event! And I feel blessed that I was part of it!
Given all the vitriol that had taken place on Facebook over the past year, I was impressed that Paula was still willing to gather people of differing opinions, beliefs, and passions. I initially met Paula on Facebook through our mutual friend, Alan. In the past year, especially, I’ve had several Facebook friends un-friend me, and I, myself, have un-followed several Facebook friends. Our passionate political posts (alliteration – you’re welcome) have just been too much to take for myself and for others. Facebook is a lousy way to keep friends if you have too many political posts. What started out as a fun way to catch up with people I hadn’t seen or heard from in years, became a horrible way to find out the politics of those same people. It was like a competition to see who could best justify the candidate they were supporting, and why everyone else should support that candidate too. There was a lot of name-calling and cramming of “facts” into post after political post. There were friends posting links to articles or commentaries to justify political positions, and then having others that disagreed with those articles and commentaries questioning the sources.
It just got me too riled up some days, but I kept going back to it. It was my unhealthy addiction to Facebook that made me give up Facebook for Lent.
That said, I was looking forward to meeting another liberal, Kavita, whom I had gotten into it with on Facebook after I commented and/or posted something in response to one of Paula’s posts. I was also looking forward to meeting another conservative, Krista, whom I had listened to on the radio for the past couple of years.
The evening did not disappoint, but it wasn’t the fireworks that I halfway expected. First off, the generosity of Paula and Tory opening up their home and preparing a meal for us was just very nice. The appetizer that Kavita brought and the soup, bread and dessert Paula made were delicious! We also enjoyed beer, wine, and a night of great conversation, getting to know one another by sharing and discussing our backgrounds, passions, differences and commonalities.
It is much easier to dismiss someone on Facebook than it is in person. My last interaction with Kavita prior to the beer summit did not end well. I thought there was no way I ever needed to worry about sending a friend request to her, that rude liberal that just didn’t “get it.” Beer Summit III changed all that. I got to know Kavita face to face, instead of Facebook to Facebook. We shared stories, opinions, laughter, commonalities and respectful disagreements.
Meeting Krista was another highlight of the evening, as she is superb at articulating her opinions (doing it professionally as a radio talk-show host), and we share a lot of the same conservative opinions. As Tory correctly pointed out, I’m a bit of a fanboy. Or fangirl. I can’t remember which.
Tory and I shared our thoughts and opinions away from the group while getting ready for the dinner to begin, and then again while clearing dishes from the dining room. He made some interesting comments about my strong pro-life stance that made me want to know more about his solution to the “problem of abortion.” I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation!
My friendship with Alan goes way back to our meeting each other at CSU as fellow cartoonists and art students. We have always differed politically, but have more than made up for those differences through our use of humor and the ability to make each other laugh. That we connected on Facebook several years ago after “life happened” with each of us getting married, raising children, etc. was one of the positives that have come from being on Facebook.
Meeting Paula on Facebook, and then in person at Beer Summits I and II, started this whole coming together and “let’s agree to disagree” on some things, but agreeing on more things than I thought possible. She is a great listener – both compassionate and passionate, and tremendously respectful of differing opinions. In the short time I’ve known her, she has become one of my favorite liberals!
Overall, Beer Summit III exceeded my expectations. It was filled with friendly discussions, passionate debate, respectful listening, and heartfelt sharing. All the while having many moments punctuated with lots of laughter. That everyone humbled themselves by opening up about their lives, backgrounds, and how they came to be where they are now on the political spectrum, gave me hope for the future. I did not have that hope since the start of the political TV ads in 2016.
I would recommend a beer summit to anyone who has been wondering how we will survive as a nation without having another civil war. Breaking bread with a few people who may not share your political affiliation is a great start to overcoming the divide we currently find ourselves in. I find myself not being as judgmental of others on Facebook with whom I politically disagree. I just don’t think Facebook is a good venue for convincing others of why you are right and they are wrong. Getting to know someone personally, in person, allows for a better understanding and a better humanity. Seeing someone’s smile has a way of disarming me, no matter how entrenched I am in my beliefs and opinions.
And because of Beer Summit III, I now have three new friends who are “Facebook official.”