The makers of Heineken beer recently released a four-plus-minute-long advertisement posing as a social experiment. In it, actors pretend to be people with wildly polarizing opinions on the topics of feminism, climate change and transgenderism. The directors of the commercial intentionally left race out of the commercial, perhaps believing that subject is too touchy to use for selling beer.
Pairing of Opposites
The participants appear to be engaging in some sort of blind date or reality TV-style experiment where two people with opposing viewpoints meet in what appears to be a warehouse. They are given instructions and have to work together to build a structure of some sort. Soon, we realize it is a makeshift bar and bar stools.
Teamwork Encourages Conversation
Each pair engages in an icebreaker where they have to describe themselves using five adjectives and then identify things they have in common, even though they just met. Conversation ensues, and all parties discover they get on just like old chums. Oddly enough, none of the aforementioned political and social views ever once come up in conversation. These are saved for the big reveal, of course.
The Big Reveal
The couples continue to work on the bar. It is fitted with beautiful hardwood and looks quite nice. Written instructions tell them to open a cooler, which looks like a globe, and place one bottle of Heineken each on a particular spot on the bar.
The instructions next tell the pair to watch a short film in which their companion spouts their polarizing views. When the film ends, the participants have to make a choice. They can leave the room, or they can have a beer and discuss their differing opinions.
All parties remain together. One man pretends to leave, but comes right back and says he was joking. This is the only excitement we get. Everyone talks civilly, and nothing controversial comes up. The supposedly anti-transgender man offers to exchange phone numbers with the trans woman. He jokingly cautions: “I’ll have to tell my girlfriend I am texting another girl.”
Respect and Civility
Everyone lives happily ever after. If you aren’t choking on cynicism or vomiting up your beer, there is a poignant message buried among this well-meaning, if contrived, performance. If you think it’s that sharing a beverage brings everyone together, you are half right.
It’s easy to vilify another group based on differences of opinion. In our toxic political climate, you hear people dismiss others by calling them names — snowflake, thug, anarchist. This name-calling progresses into violent, often deadly clashes between various groups — even though the individuals have never met each other.
When you are forced to talk one-on-one with another human being, and both parties insist on being civil to each other, you will have real dialogue. Never should this involve screaming over each other, interrupting, name-calling or violence.
You take turns talking, and when you aren’t talking, you are listening. You don’t have to agree with what that person is saying. But it is important to understand why that person feels the way they do. Don’t feel threatened. Both of you will have a better understanding of each other’s perspective if you hear each other out.
Love Conquers Hate
Some might be opposed to talking to supposed neo-Nazis or KKK members. On a very realistic note though, if they are willing to talk civilly and are willing to listen, it would be a mistake to not engage them. Why do they feel the way they do? What events in their life caused them to join a hate group? Finding these things out could be supremely important in our quest to stop the roots of racism and intolerance from spreading in the first place.
If they are willing to talk to you, they either want attention or are curious about opposing viewpoints. African-American comedian Kamau Bell did just that and produced a show The United Shades of America, where he interviewed the KKK. It was eye-opening, frightening, funny and quite powerful.
Another black man, Daryl Davis — an accomplished musician who played with Chuck Berry and Little Richard — has reached out to the Klan as well. In his documentary, Accidental Courtesy, he tells stories of meeting and eventually befriending Klan members by delicately challenging their beliefs.
His first question is, “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” He says he gives the Klan members a platform, listens to what they have to say, then politely and respectfully challenges their beliefs. He has found they are also willing to reciprocate and hear him out.
If black men are willing to reach out to the KKK, the rest of us should be able to attempt to bridge our differences. The crushing reality that Charlottesville and events like it have brought to light for us is that there are definitely some very scary people out there with some very scary opinions, and a lot more of them than we probably thought. However, these people aren’t just going to go away, and yelling at them or physically berating them isn’t doing much help either.
Seeking to understand and fix — that’s a solution we should be able to get behind. Hope is not entirely gone just because someone has been brainwashed into siding with a particular group — just ask Christian Picciolini, the reformed white nationalist who was interviewed by NPR recently on his organization, Life After Hate. He also offered up his thoughts on Charlottesville, its cause and how we can seek to keep this kind of thing from happening again.
Violence Begets Violence
In the long run, violence never solves anything. If you are going to a protest with the intent of hitting someone over the head, you are no better than the person you are hitting.
We only find peace and common ground through respect and civility. We all have differences, and we all have things in common. Seeking to find our commonalities may help us mend and, if needed, reform our differences. As the Heineken commercial so aptly puts it: “Even if you wanted to sit down and convince people of your point, the productive thing to do would be to sit down and have a beer.”
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