Bartender School

In the late 1990’s I enrolled in bartender school with like ten of my friends. None of us were planning on becoming bartenders, it just seemed like a cool summer job or part-time job during college.

I was a horrendous bartender. During the handful of gigs I took at clubs and bars, my signature greeting to patrons was “Shot or beer?” Because that’s all I was doing. To this day I only drink on the rocks. I don’t know how to make a good anything. Never actually learned.

But I did learn one thing at bartender school that stuck with me. There are two things a professional bartender never discusses with patrons: Politics and religion.

The way the bartender sensei running the class explained it, there’s no upside. Even if the customer agrees with 95% of your political or religious opinions, the 5% is enough to enrage them. Off topic, but he smoked a thousand cigarettes while teaching each two hour class and I remember something about his pet snake I think? Like, he was constantly referring to his snake and feeding it and whatnot. Who has a snake?*

Watching a high profile Twitter user I respect a lot announce that he’s quitting the service recently, I was thinking about the bartender’s rule and how much easier it would make all of our lives if we conducted ourselves as if. Maybe not all the time, but most of the time.

It’s unrealistic to expect universal agreement on the topics of politics or religion on the internet. Even if we go out of our way to interact only with people we believe to be rational, reasonable, intelligent and constructive. You eventually discover the 5% of things you disagree on and then the rage takes over. Maybe you become enraged and react poorly. Or maybe you enrage enough other people that your mentions column turns toxic. It’s inevitable.

And what was the point? Are things going so well in any of our lives that we need to look for trouble deliberately? Does anyone ever actually win an argument that’s based on opinions? On a social media site? No one wins. No one changes their mind because of a Twitter exchange or a hashtag war.

So if we know we’re not winning any converts, and that the most likely result of debating these topics is winning new enemies for ourselves, why bother?

Now, there are political figures and religious scholars and journalists and even standup comics whose job it is to talk about this stuff publicly. Is that you? Probably not.

One added benefit of adopting the bartender’s rule is that when there really is something that you feel absolutely compelled to speak out about, it carries more weight. “I rarely comment on things like this, but I just have to say…” Make it count.

Bartenders have views about politics. They have views about religion, and race and all sorts of other topics that are bound to produce heated arguments. If they feel the need to share and discuss these views, it’s not in a room full of 30 people they barely know. Nobody’s leaving tips for that. Nobody appreciates it, even the likeminded.

*apologies to the snake people. Good luck with whatever is going on with you. 

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