A few years ago a farming friend told me during one of our periodic conversations over morning coffee, “If you want to know a little bit about something, just ask me – I only know a little bit.” This is the same person who proclaimed, “If you talk too much, you’ll get a sunburned tongue.”

Among his other bits of wisdom, he described the most recent rainfall as a two-inch. He added, “That’s because the raindrops fell two inches apart on my sidewalk.”

Morning coffee klatches of farmers at a favorite establishment and afternoon socials over a beer or two are events where a lot of farmers exchange useful information about many things, agricultural and otherwise. I partake infrequently in over-the-coffee discussions and afternoon libations even though I usually learn a little bit about something; other obligations get in the way.

These gatherings are occasions when farmers share perceptions and concerns with peers who understand agriculture. They also can build strong positive relationships and define the culture of their communities.

Morning and afternoon gatherings of farmers take place mostly when they aren’t engaged in necessary work, such as planting crops and caring for livestock; the attendance varies according to the season and the needs of these farmers for a sounding board, socio-psychological support, or something else. Retired farmers and usually men are more likely to attend the morning sessions.

Almost all of these gatherings are friendly, but volatile feelings can emerge. A retired acquaintance mentioned recently that his usual morning coffee group can’t openly discuss certain matters after one of the members angrily insisted that the 2020 US presidential election was rigged, although most of the group disagreed with his opinion.

Despite their varying opinions, the members continue to meet over coffee and culinary treats while they discuss less controversial matters. Maintenance of relationships is more important, but currently, there is underlying tension within his morning coffee group, my acquaintance said.

Political dissension is becoming commonplace. Many people are wondering how they can respond to attacks on their ideology.

Are political differences off-limits in social gatherings over coffee and other refreshments these days? If so, that would be an unfortunate development because many of our country’s founding principles were shaped during discussions in taverns that served food, tea, and alcoholic libations by people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other land-owning farmers around Charlottesville, Virginia.

My wife and I built a house on land near Charlottesville that was formerly owned by Meriwether Lewis when some forty-five years ago I was a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and Marilyn was a part-time faculty member in the School of Nursing.

Other founders of our country, like Ben Franklin in Philadelphia and John Adams in Massachusetts, aired ideas in their own hometown discussions that included food and drinks with critics. The articles in the Declaration of Independence from England and the Constitution of the United States trace much of their wording, as well as their eventual affirmation by majority consent, to discussions held by our founding fathers in local taverns.

What are the best ways today of airing differences in views and lifestyles during discussions among farmers and among other groups that meet regularly over refreshments?

Tensions within groups of people are resolved better through fair and open discussions than by avoiding tender topics. Sociological research indicates that avoiding discussions about differing views encourages the participants to separate and withdraw into groups that share similar opinions, thereby enlarging the gaps in understanding of each other.

Uncomfortable feelings have to be addressed, much like our founding fathers talked through their differing views. One or two respected members of these groups may choose to lead the resolution. Agreeing to disagree is not a lasting solution.

The group members who take on the task of leading the resolution process must not indicate their own views. Their role is to facilitate everyone else to express their opinions.

They should avoid the peril of group members saying something like, “You can’t talk to so-and-so because they are so adamant you can’t even approach certain topics.” The discussion leaders must prevent scapegoating by offering a higher purpose for meeting together.

Every conflict has a higher purpose than someone winning arguments. Whatever the higher purpose could be a topic of open discussion without fear of repercussions from people who disagree.

The group leaders should demonstrate clear rules of decorum as informally as possible. They can remind outspoken persons who dominate the conversation, belittle others’ views, use foul language, and so forth, that there is a higher purpose, and that might be a fair and open discussion like our country’s founders carried on.

Perhaps even this article could be a topic of discussion among farmers and anyone over coffee. Everyone might learn a little bit.

Please let me know your thoughts.