July 24, 2009

Beer & Conflict Resolution


In case you didn't know, racial tensions still exist in America. We can see this quite clearly by the response to the recent incident in which a Harvard professor was arrested at his home. It's not exactly clear what happened, but basically the police saw Dr. Gates trying to get into his home, however they thought he was an intruder. Tensions arose as Gates felt he was enduring another incident of police misconduct and racial injustice. From the perspective of the police officers, Gates appeared suspicious. When they confronted him, he did not cooperate and he became belligerent.

Obama stirred the pot on Wednesday by suggesting that the police acted "stupidly." Since then allegations have been flying from all over as to the appropriateness of the conduct of the police, the professor, and the president.

Today Obama weighed in again on the situation when he spoke at the White House press briefing. I believe Obama's profound, humorous, and humble remarks, reflect true leadership.

In his remarks, Obama said he'd called Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, and spoken with him. He made some attempts to tamp down the furor, saying his impression of Crowley is that he's "an outstanding police officer and a good man" and that he'd talked with him about the three men -- Crowley, Gates and Obama -- having a beer together in the White House (Salon).

His entire remarks can be found on the link and are worth a read, but here's an excerpt.

My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved...My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what's called a "teachable moment," where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.

Now I'm not much of a beer drinker, or an alcohol drinker for that matter, nor do I think Obama is perfect, but I think we could all benefit from learning from Obama's approach to this conflict.
  • Courageously speaking up for those who are mistreated
  • Knowing when to back off and restate your opinion
  • Praising the positive qualities of your opponents
  • Speaking directly with your opponents
  • Addressing the larger issues at play
  • Finding common ground and humor
  • Working for reconciliation between people
  • Getting together with folks for drinks

23 comments:

  1. Depends on what kind of beer it is. If Obama offers them a light beer, I consider it a major faux pas and a setback in relationship-building.

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  2. Shouldn't this say "be a part of this conversation"? Being "apart" doesn't sound inviting. You forget here that initially Obama condemned the police officer and said the Cambridge PD acted "stupidly." Once it came out that the police union, the chief, and fellow officers were backing up the arresting officer, Obama had to back down to save face. By the by, the arresting officer is also a sergeant who trains rookies on racial profiling.

    I don't care how many PHDs you have, everyone knows that when you deal with cops, you act respectfully and do what they say. If you yell at them, accuse them of being racist to their face multiple times, and act in a disorderly manner, you're going to get a free ride downtown. I don't care who you are. And yes, we all know that African-Americans are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. That does not excuse a Harvard professor from lacking the common sense of a 16-year-old pulled over for a speeding ticket.

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  3. I don't know Jarrett, I think the light, fruity kinds are the only drinks that don't taste like piss.

    Thanks for the pointing out that grammatical error Drew. I think I've been getting those words confused for a while now. But I think I've got it; my wife is a part of me, but she's apart from me while she's in N. Ireland:)

    I did in fact mentioned the "stupidly" comment--which I actually thought was a bit harsh and presumptuous. Believe it or not, I tend to agree with your last paragraph.

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  4. I'm referring to "light" as in Bud Light or Miller Lite or, God forbid, Keystone Light or Natty Lite. Those are piss beers my good friend. I suppose a light and fruity Belgium style wheat ale would suffice for the occasion--say a Hoegaarden. Personally I think President Obama should serve a complex Trappist style monastery brew. Not only does the complexity of the flavors say you are an enlightened and cultured person, but the high gravity alcohol content should loosen up the tensions in the room.

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  5. I remember talking about this just before youth group-there were many on both sides of the isle that thought it should've gone down differently...fact is, it didn't.
    I am glad there was a 'beer summit,' but I'm not so sure that at the time of all the 'reactionary' comments following the incident made by the President, the media, or ourselves was right to begin with.
    How is it that we have an opinion on something we know very little about-the President didn't know the details of the situation and the media leaked new findings like every 10 minutes following the event.
    We have a nasty habit of jumping the gun and throwing people under the bus-we need only look at today's situation where someone lost their job w/o all the facts being presented.
    'Beer Summit' or not, common sense and Christ-like behavior is what matters here-the professor should've acted like an adult, but again, he was very reactionary and that's something our culture/socitety teaches.
    There's always three messages:
    Implicit, Explicit, and Null (look them up)
    *I think we've learned a lot from what was merely implied and not taught.

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