Feta Cheese Lady

People tend to fall into one of two buckets.  Either you’re looking for what you have in common with someone or you’re looking for how you’re different from someone.  I’ve had a few conversations over the last month with people who I have a lot in common with who are completely different from me on which politician they support, religious belief, what they eat or don’t eat, Red Sox/Yankees, how they raise their children, smoking or nonsmoking, how they drive or a hundred other things.  And yet in each case I have a lot in common with them too.

I had a meeting this week where I completely agreed with the guy I was meeting with on 95% of what we were talking about.  Where we had differences of opinion I chose to keep my mouth shut rather than work to educate him on why I was right and he was wrong.  Does that make me weak, or pragmatic?  In this conversation I was talking with a customer and I think it was pragmatic not to stand on principle and tell him why his opinion was off the mark.  But I’ve held my tongue in non-business situations as well.  I think there’s a place to take a stand and a time to figure out what you have in common and leave the rest behind.

The art of compromise is finding a place in the middle where both sides win.  Extremists on both sides view this as weak, spineless or a hundred other things.  Most people will hold the line on something.  Most people view school shootings as horrific events that must stop.  Where we disagree is in how to stop them.  Most people agree in general that secure borders make sense.  Where we disagree is in the methodology for stopping people from crossing that border.

Philosophical debate has been around for as long as humans could communicate with each other.  The art of philosophical debate was mastered by the ancient Greeks, most notably Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.  Read Plato’s Philebus and you see just how brilliant great debate can be when employing the Socratic Method of questions and answers to stimulate critical thinking and eventually agreement.  But the art of debate gets lost in the noise that social media and mass media create.  It’s far easier to follow one point of view than to find the nuance between the two that makes the most sense for both sides.  Clicks and followers demand loud voices.

I was talking to the woman making my omelet in Rochester, New York this week.  Random person whom I know nothing about other than that she cooks eggs to order at a Doubletree Hotel.  I’ve had the same conversation with her twice, roughly seven months apart.  I asked for feta cheese on my omelet and she gushed about Stella feta cheese, saying it was the best anywhere, but really hard to find outside of Sysco or whatever other supplier Hilton contracts with.  She didn’t remember having this conversation with me last year, just that we both liked feta cheese on our omelets.  She may have strong opinions about separating children from their parents at the border, or about any number of hot button issues.  What I know for sure is that she’s a sweet older lady who isn’t very good at making omelets but tries hard.  And when she’s at work she doesn’t bring up divisive issues that detract from her primary mission.

Social media offers plenty of opportunity to comment on divisive issues, and God knows people take advantage of that opportunity.  But somewhere along the way a few people forget why they’re Facebook friends with someone in the first place and prompt debate, discord, anger and name calling.  Some of the greatest people I know have opinions I completely disagree with.  And I’m okay with that as long as they respect my right to have a different opinion.  Facebook to me is a place to look at your family and friends living their lives and cheer them on as hit milestones or try their best.  It’s not the best format for debate on hot button issues, but when you aren’t hanging out around the same water cooler it’s one way to reach out and touch someone…  or say something annoying enough that they respond.

Sometimes I just want to get my omelet and get on with my day.  Debating a short order cook about which feta cheese is better wouldn’t have advanced my life in any meaningful way.  Other times I want to complain about Dunkin Donuts just to get a reaction.  Debating DD vs. Starbucks is a means of engagement.  Poking friends to see who responds.  And I see that with political discussions on FB.  Sometimes you want to jump in, other times not.  But when intelligent debate devolves into argument neither party advances in any meaningful way.  We all have our line in the sand, but isn’t it more interesting to find common ground?  Ultimately its all just food for thought anyway.