“You’re going to get shot at your coffee meeting,” my oldest son, Ben, texts me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
He’s been following my dialogue with a stranger on Twitter. I fired off a snarky comment about a local news story that was getting national attention, and this guy challenged my knowledge of the situation.
“This is my hometown,” I shot back at him. “I know everyone.”
He immediately returned my volley (like any dehumanized bot). “Mine too, big deal.”
At that point, I had him. He couldn’t be a local—I just knew it!—so I called his bluff.
“Awesome!” I typed with toxic sarcasm. “Let’s hook up for coffee and chat.”
I didn’t expect his response. This guy actually doubled down and invited me to dinner.
Uh-oh, I thought, and before I could hit the snooze button on my BAD IDEA alarm, we scheduled a meeting. Thus my son’s “You’re going to get shot” warning.
“If he shows,” Ben offers with his next text. “Or if he’s even a real person.”
In two days, I will learn the truth about my newest online nemesis.
We met in a little downtown market (with plenty of foot traffic and witnesses just in case Ben’s prediction rang true). We introduced ourselves, shook hands, and then ordered a couple of coffees. With steaming, butter-infused caffeine in hand, we made our way to a table in the corner of the room. The wall behind us was covered in childish scribbles and a little girl was playing with a toy kitchen beside us. It seemed our little online tiff had spilled over into the play area.
“I’ve got to be honest,” I began. “I didn’t think you’d show.”
This guy—Joe—smiled. “And I thought I’d be having coffee by myself.”
How wrong we’d both been. About a good many things. But there we were. Two complete strangers who’d butted heads on social media, sitting down to have an actual conversation in which neither of us could hide behind a keyboard or a phone screen. We’d stepped out of the virtual war zone and found ourselves within real life stabbing distance of the other.
And so it began.
In no time at all, I learned something horrific about Joe (and this may be hard for some of you to read, so brace yourselves).
The scandalous truth about my online antagonist?
Joe, it seems, loves his country. Just like me.
Joe cares deeply for his family, friends, and his community. Just like me.
Joe has a passion for helping those in need. Just like me.
Joe is moved to the point of tears when talking about children who are adrift and left starving for someone to love them. Joe has suffered setbacks and heartbreaks and tragedies, but he still gets up every day and forges ahead because he believes in the value of hard work, integrity, and fairness.
Just like me.
Over the course of an hour, this stranger and I watched our stories overflow the barriers of our false assumptions until we found ourselves wading through the same waters of life.
Friends, there’s something we need to realize before it’s too late.
Unscrupulous business entities are getting rich by selling us neatly packaged rage and division. Spend ten minutes online and we are herded into separate corners, and then manipulated into lobbing grenades at our neighbors from behind social media’s protective barriers.
We’re snarky, dismissive, and sometimes downright cruel to people we don’t even know.
We tear into each other from a digital distance and then lament our lost humanity.
But what if …?
What if we crawled out of our bunkers, stepped across the battlefield, and offered a handshake and a cup of coffee?
What if we had some actual conversations with our online enemies—not just about the topics that divide us, but about our lives? What if we were honest and vulnerable about our hopes, joys, fears, and sorrows?
What if you discovered that guy on Twitter (that ignorant jerk) is actually a good man … an intelligent man … with whom you have a lot in common … and you could easily imagine hiking or fishing with him?
Joe and I probably disagree on many issues, but that’s an assumption. You see, during our time together, we didn’t talk much about what divides us. We shared our personal stories, and we recognized the things that unite us.
Today, I learned the shocking truth about that jerk online: sometimes it’s me; mostly because I let myself forget that everyone has a story and deserves the opportunity to be known and loved.
Joe and I met for what some might have expected to be a showdown. Not one shot was fired. In fact, I walked away with a new friend.
What if we all found the stupid courage to take such a risk?
If we want a better world for our kids, we’ve got to quit looking for a broken political machine to bring us together and, instead, take a look in the mirror.
If we truly want peace and prosperity in our world, maybe this is where we start: #CoffeeWithTheEnemy
Tired of the hostility? Then be the change. Flood social media celebrating your new friendships and see what happens.
You just might discover the truth behind the old saying, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
So, who’s buying?
Please share this. Encourage connection. What we water is what we grow. We can change the world one conversation at a time. #CoffeeWithTheEnemy
Check out Bert’s book from Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books: X-Plan Parenting: Become Your Child’s Ally–A Guide to Raising Strong Kids in a Challenging World RELEASE DATE: June 11, 2019. PRE-ORDER NOW.