by Joe Thomas
“We don’t serve redneck beers here,” she said in a Carolina accent. I took a look around the outside bar and saw ads for Miller, Coors Light, Bud. I looked back at the server, she was waiting for me to ask for something more refined than PBR. She must have mistaken the incredulous look on my face for one of confusion, because she repeated herself, slightly louder. Everything on the patio seemed to slow down, and then stop, except for the ceiling fans struggling to move the thick Columbia air.
It was 2012. The night before, a group of friends and I had driven to South Carolina from Atlanta, listening on the radio as the Braves lost to the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card game in what would later be known as the “Sam Holbrook game.” We were in Columbia to watch the Georgia Bulldogs take on the South Carolina Gamecocks, a matchup of two top-ten teams trying to take the next step to the top of the SEC. Georgia lost that day in depressing fashion, and we all cursed the oppressive heat and general meh-ness of Columbia, South Carolina and swore never to return. A promise I have kept over the last four years.
I used to get self-righteous and judge people for liking things I don’t like. I was the record store clerks in “High Fidelity,” and the beer snob, the sports-talk radio call-in guy, and the guy who didn’t listen to commercial radio – if you didn’t like the things I like you were either stupid or somehow financial invested or probably both, and I spent a lot of energy letting you know. Thank god I didn’t have Twitter then…
Look, if you like an album, or a book, or a football team, or a restaurant, or a beer, or a political candidate, or a church, or NOT going to church, that’s awesome – talk about why you like it with other people who like it, or people who don’t, or people who are just curious. Just recognize that your opinion is just that – it’s what YOU like. All of those things are a matter of personal taste, and taste can’t be right or wrong.
We should do more to evaluate intentions rather than opinions, and understand that most people on this planet are just trying to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love. What we think is the best album of the 1980s (it’s Graceland by Paul Simon, COME AT ME), or the greatest American novel, or whether PBR is a redneck beer, or the best way to secure our country against those who wish us harm… all of those are conversations we should have. They are healthy and they are what lead to growth. But when we let our tastes and opinions become dogma, we stunt and cripple that growth and pit us against ourselves. We can do better.