The new #OpenYourWorld Heineken commercial is turning some heads. Instead of depicting upscale parties, a fun night out or just fun times between friends, it highlights the differences between people that make us unique, and which make us uncomfortable. Addressing and living with such diverse differences is a source of social and political tension. What this commercial suggests is that we can all sit down and talk about these, civilly, over a beer. Key word is “can”.
While the commercial does not illustrate bringing opposing views together over a beer as being easy, and tensions can be sensed, there are many things that can go wrong if such an exercise was followed without taking precautions. We believe discussing issues is paramount to human society, and must not be engaged in lightly.
A little bit of booze could loosen some personal taboos and open the door to flexibility and empathy, but this should not be relied upon. Alcohol can also increase aggression, limit tolerance and weaken and complicate communication. Beer does not automatically open your world.
Even without alcohol, communication is vulnerable. Communication is very difficult to begin with. There are many moving parts, subtle signals, nuances and unconscious reactions. Add value differences and emotions to this complex mix and things can go wrong quickly and intensely. Sober, tipsy or drunk, communication can (and has) gone haywire.
It is also important to realize that things won’t change in the time it takes to share a beer. People won’t suddenly understand each other in 30 minutes or an hour. The goal should go beyond achieving a sit-down.
How issues are discussed and what happens afterword are critical. Sitting down and talking is a good start, but it must be an enjoyable experience first, with participants leaving feeling good about what happened. This means debate is a no-no, as are preaching, lecturing and ad hominem phrases. Curiosity is as important as honesty.
The commercial does not outline the selection of its participants. It seems they are strangers, but it also seems that they have agreed to some sort of experiment. This may indicate that the participants are flexible to experience something new and willing for an adventure.
This is not to say that sitting down two strangers to talk about contentious issues over a beer is impossible or a bad idea. Far from it, but certain protocols must be in place and followed for such an occasion. An experienced facilitator can help keep participants on topic and civil while allowing each to voice their positions and interest. The facilitator can take notes on hot-button topics and what issues may need more attention, while helping clarify comments and reactions.
Since starting our Pub Dialogues series in January 2012, we have come to realize that having our participants come to agreement is not only impossible, but unwanted by the participants and, really, by us. It is perfectly OK to have differing viewpoints. What divides us and pushes our positions to extremes is how we discuss these differences, their source, effects and problems they encounter. There is an unseen line on both he Left and the Right that when crossed, discussion ceases, problem solving diminishes and divisions widen. What we realized is that while we cannot/do not wish to erase differences, what we can and want to do is bring the extremes of each issue close enough together so that they can and are willing to discuss issues civilly. From there, we can cultivate cooperation, creativity and solution development.