Craft Beer and Syrian Refugees

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on November 21, 2015  /   Posted in Articles

Refugees and Craft Beer

The Brewers Association article on craft brewing’s charitable donations highlights how involved craft breweries are in their communities.  They donate money to various charities as well as providing product and space to others. They create and promote fundraising events and raise awareness to many causes. They even raise money to help employees, customers and strangers manage medical expenses and see them through tough times.  To many of us beer geeks this is not surprising, but the total amount, $71 Million, is phenomenal and that does not include the time and energy breweries put forth to achieve this number.

The article also highlights the potential for what craft breweries can do for their community and beyond, in ways not reflected in dollars.

Venues such as craft breweries, tap houses and tap rooms attract people from various and differing backgrounds and opposing perspectives. Yet, they all share a common interest: good beer. This interest can serve as the cornerstone for important, perhaps contentious, dialogue. And through dialogue difficult social, political, religious and community issues can be effectively addressed. It is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is. 

Such venues can cultivate a spirit of open and honest conversation, and provide a safe and open atmosphere to encourage people to discuss contentious issues without fear of backlash and ridicule. It is a way to help a community gather resources and information to effectively address certain issues and guard against hastily made decisions, which usually end up exasperating the original issue.

Let’s take the Syrian refugee crisis as an example–quite the contentious topic with short-, medium-, and long-term implications. It requires in-depth conversation from multiple viewpoints in order to effectively address challenges it presents, separate emotional responses and practical measures, and remove political influence.  Certainly not an easy task.

Yet, it is possible for people from all sides of an issue to converse in a civil manner. To discuss what upsets them. To listen to what upsets others, why certain things upset themselves, and to collectively better understand such complex situations. Are the refugees a threat to security? Are they just people who need help? Which is correct? Or are they both correct? Or both wrong, and there’s another possibility?  This cannot be discovered through Facebook, Twitter or comment threads online. It must be done in person. 

Getting opposite viewpoints in the same room is challenging, though.  “Come on down andPub Dialogue2 talk with someone who disagrees with you” is not an appealing invitation. But craft beer is. Having a discussion over a pint is much more attractive than having a contentious discussion.

And such discussions are germane to discovery of effective solutions. Surface level questions lead to deeper inquiry that probe for more complete information.  Are Syrian refugees harmless? Why or why not? What is the refugee acceptance process? Does it include placement and monitoring? What is to gain from accepting a refugee population? These are important questions to ask and to answer, but they aren’t the only ones. Questions can counter conclusions people already hold, and challenging them can make them defensive, annoyed, dismissive or even angry. Yet a society benefits from having uncomfortable conversations.  

Of course alcohol can inhibit control over emotions, and nothing can get emotions boiling like politics and social issues, which can increase the likelihood of shouting and name-calling.  This can happen anyway in tap houses and tap rooms, but what a venue can do is institute a public dialogue program that brings in professional facilitators to manage emotions and keep conversation on track and safe.

Much like during the Colonial days, breweries and other craft beer venues could be the place in a community for public discussion on important topics, like the Syrian refugee crisis, and get away from pointless social media banter. Public dialogue is no easy task and should not be undertaken lightly. But the power of public dialogue, when harnessed, can provide enormous benefits to the brewery, tap house, community and the larger society. Real world problems addressed, understood and resolved in the real world, not cyberspace. Maybe we can call it “Craft Conversations”.

For more information about models of public dialogue, please contact Jason.




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