Craft brewing in America is booming, providing consumers a diverse selection from over 4,000 breweries. But some of those breweries have potential to offer the American public something else: A conduit for national (and personal) progress. If 2016 has taught us anything it is that America has communication problems. From our private lives to political leadership, America is drowning in oceans of cynical opposition and blame; that differences equate to division, and division creates “sides”, and those sides must do battle to produce a “winner”. When we concentrate on debate, we sacrifice truth, accuracy, and finding and creating solutions. Debate often serves as a roadblock. Winning is not solving.
America’s Founding Fathers knew that debating each other was perilous. As Benjamin Franklin stated, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Infighting and banter would have, literally, led to their deaths. Instead, they sat down, face to face, to discuss differences and create new avenues, which led to independence and, later, the Constitution. And they did this without telephones, telegraphs, planes, trains, cars, the Internet and social media.
Their conduit was public spaces: Local taverns and inns, many of which were small breweries. While there, they engaged in Dialogue: In-person discussions that were honest, contentious and civil. They didn’t abandon debate, but they didn’t rely on it. They invited critical analysis and kept cynical opposition at bay (for the most part). Their dialogues contained more than critique; they invoked critical thinking, they looked for new insights and various perspectives, and cautioned against hubris to reac historic solutions.
America today lacks the overall awareness of dialogue, acknowledgement of its benefits, and the skills to engage it. Thankfully, however, the safe spaces our Founding Fathers used have returned. Enter craft breweries. Many are local businesses. They are popular and public. They attract people from all walks of life. The ethos of a local craft brewery is community, and that of the craft brewing industry is comradery. Community and comradery are ingredients of a great recipe. When mixed with Dialogue they can generate progress, problem solving and unity.
Yet, Dialogue is tricky and difficult, and should not be engaged haphazardly or on a whim. Since dialogue often includes contentious issues, emotions can run high and, if not managed properly, can derail the endeavor making matters worse. Dialogue participants must understand that their ideas, emotions, beliefs and interests will be challenged, not for ridicule, but for understanding. They should not see Dialogue as an opportunity to convince others and “win” the argument, but rather to understand perspectives and recognize obstacles. Cynicism may pop up, and it must be properly managed to minimize its impact. Participants must realize that Disagreement is required, but Division is not. They must also be flexible with their positions, consider suggestions, and allow for personal change (albeit not instant). And they must treat others with respect and maintain civility. But first, they need to meet, in-person, and in safe spaces.
Using “out-person” conduits, such as social media and the Internet, we further our division by communicating to each other, not with each other. As a result, we focus on that we disagree, and ignore how we do so. In-person Dialogue aims not to eliminate disagreement, but to enhance how we understand, learn from, and overcome our differences so that they won’t divide us.
Intense, critical, curious and civil discussions over a pint of craft beer just may save America. If dialogue participants disagree on everything else, at least they can agree on having a locally brewed, delicious beer. From there, once a commonality is recognized, anything can happen. More commonalities emerge and problem solving begins. Once again, America looks to local breweries to begin its (re)unification.
To help spark the dialogue movement, we have created the Pub Dialogues in the Denver metro area. This somewhat monthly event has garnered large and small crowds, but after each session participants cheer the event. Many admit that they anticipated shouting matches and didn’t know they could actually talk to “opponents”. We applaud their openness and flexibility to experiment with face-to-face dialogue. Every “side” is allowed to speak uninterrupted. Participants gain insight to others and better understand various perspectives. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that they experienced civil dialogue; that they can get past disagreement and onto problem solving. And that is the primary goal of the Pub Dialogues; to help people recognize that people can resolve issues among themselves and not rely on social media, presidential debates and cynicism.