Group encourages spirited discussion (but not rowdy dissent)
Is there a term more oxymoronic than “social media?” Even a cursory read of the most-used forms of the online medium reveal an America deeply divided, prone to hurtful accusations and entrenched argument. But once a month in Hendersonville, a group of people claiming a broad spectrum of beliefs and backgrounds come together to respectfully engage with one another. According to Karen-Eve Pfotzer, co-founder with husband Peter Gollup, “Think & Drink” was conceived to provide a neutral, accepting venue to talk, listen, and discuss topics.
She says there is no inherent agenda.
“As a sociologist, I am very interested in what people in the 21st century need in terms of connection, cross-generationally,” says Pfotzer, a native of Hendersonville who spent three decades in Europe and other places before returning home. “I did some research and found several groups that meet in Asheville, but I wanted something local. So, my husband and I brainstormed and we came up with this.”
She created a group through MeetUp, posted flyers around town, invited everyone she and Gollup knew, and staged the kickoff at Hannah Flanagan’s Pub in March 2017. Though the location has changed several times, the operating concept and protocol remain the same. They convene in a restaurant, café, or pub where people can first get something to eat, drink, and spend about 20 minutes socializing. The facilitator — who has chosen the evening’s topic — gives a brief overview, then a presentation via a relevant TEDx Talk or YouTube film of about 20 minutes’ duration. The facilitator then poses anywhere from 4-7 questions, which are discussed for the remaining time.
“We ask that the facilitator not choose a topic they are an expert in,” she says. “This is not a lecture, a promotion, or a teaching presentation. We want people to introduce ideas they are interested in learning about and share that with the group. It’s about engaging and understanding. We had someone complain about the lack of structure, and I said, ‘This is not a lecture, it’s a conversation.’ We have found that’s what people wanted most.”
Topics have ranged from rocket science to fashion, implicit bias to food waste. “You can choose anything you’d like, but if you choose a political or moral hot potato, as the facilitator, you will have to deal with it,” she notes.
Though the group has never dissolved into open fighting, a couple of topics have prompted more spirited discussion. Autism, for one, which was intended to cover how the condition presents, the spectrum, and possible causes — but veered into a vaccination debate.
The topic of polyamory was also, well, heated. “That was the one I thought might come to blows,” Pfotzer says with a laugh. “People had very strong opinions disagreeing with the practice. We tried to reassure them we were not trying to convert anyone, just learn more.”
Because being open to learning is key to the energy of each event, the topic is not announced in advance. “The facilitators [were required to clear] the topic with me, but I didn’t share it. Some people might say, ‘Oh, I’m not interested in autism or artificial intelligence, so I’m not going to that one.’ But I found there were subjects I was not necessarily interested in, but came away learning a lot [about], even changing my behaviors and attitudes.”
Pfotzer says she was very pleased at how many people stepped forward to facilitate an evening when they realized it was based on curiosity, not expertise. Her observation is echoed by David Rosenberg, who, with his wife Hiyaguha Cohen, assumed the role of leaders of the group when Pfotzer and Gollup passed the baton mid-2019. “It’s not like the geniuses in the classroom throwing their hands up and saying, ‘Ooo, ooo, teacher, me, me!’ It’s someone who has a real interest in something and volunteers to present,” says Rosenberg.
Cohen found the MeetUp group when the couple moved to Hendersonville from Kauai, Hawaii, where they had lived for 15 years. “We were looking for a forum where people of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities could get together,” she says. “At ‘Think & Drink,’ we found a common yearning for understanding … how to talk to one another and not try to ‘win’ or convert one another.”
“When you’re seeing another human being face to face and not words on a screen, it’s a very different experience,” adds Rosenberg. “We are talking with, not at, each other.”
In 2020, Think & Drink takes place on the second floor of Moe’s Original Bar B Que (114 North Main St., Hendersonville, 828-595-9200). It’s held the first Tuesday of the month, starting at 5:30 pm. See “Hendersonville Think & Drink” on Facebook.