DO talk to strangers

By weeklyvolcano on July 31, 2006

Conversationcafe Talking to strangers is IN again thanks to Tacoma-based People for Peace, Justice, and Healing and a concept known as Conversations Cafe. Fortunately, for those lacking kung fu skills, these conversations with strangers take place in an organized forum at Tacoma's Mandolin Cafe (3923 S.12th) every Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
In the 1700s, British Parliament banned coffee houses like the Mandolin as hotbeds of sedition. The reason for the ban was simple â€" coffee makes people talkative (for the same neuro-chemical reason cocaine does). People communing and talking often led to people making up their own minds about things. Or worse yet, changing how they felt about the government.
And while sedition is not necessarily the goal of People for Peace, etc., organizers hope to brew up what they call "social liveliness." With democracy, critical thinking and "the ties that bind" all under siege, they say, a stop at Mandolin on Tuesdays may result in the most radical cup of coffee you ever drink.
Way better than current national conversation forums such as "Oprah" or "Geraldo At Large" (well, maybe not better than Geraldo...), the Conversations Cafe movement began as an attempt to re-open communication channels after the Sept. 11 attacks, which apparently resulted in some sort of federal quest to slay open conversation about topics that people really needed to talk about. I don't know. Something about "us or them" threats by the president and other alpha males having a chilling effect on public discourse. Nationwide violence, threats of violence, and discrimination against Arab-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent? Maybe that was part of it. Whatever it was, people stopped talking. Conversations Cafe aims to reverse the trend.
Conversations are free form, and are structured to promote a sincere and far-reaching exchange of views â€" in a spirit of understanding and curiosity, rather than persuasion. For 15 months now, members of People for Peace, etc. have facilitated these conversations, and not once has a single guest been accosted or feared for his or her safety (... unlike someone who might, for example, speak their mind at the Poodle Dog in Fife.) Groups of six to 10 people are standard, and topics are pinned on life in contemporary America â€" from immigration to outsourcing. Think the Fox show "30 Days," without Morgan Sperlock telling you what to think.  â€" Paul Schrag